Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show.
-- Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
[Elrond:] There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it.
-- J. R. R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring
"Farewell, Gandalf!" [Aragorn] cried... "What hope have we without you?"
He turned to the Company. "We must do without hope," he said.
How can one say, 'No, this isn't a part of life,' since it always is? The contaminant of sex, the redeeming corruption that de-idealizes the species and keeps us everlastingly mindful of the matter we are.
-- Philip Roth, The Human Stain
The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.
The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.
The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.
-- Emily Dickinson
The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.
-- Morpheus to Titiana, in Neil Gaiman's Sandman
However much we might like
The stoic manner in which
The classical Authors wrote
Only the young and the rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.
-- W. H. Auden
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
-- George Rubin Thomas
Narration is as much a part of human nature as breath and the circulation of the blood.... storytelling is intrinsic to biological time, which we cannot escape. Life, Pascal said, is like living in a prison from which every day fellow prisoners are taken away to be executed. We are all, like Scheherazade, under sentence of death, and we all think of our lives as narratives, with beginnings, middles and ends.
-- A. S. Byatt
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.
-- J. Michael Straczynski, "A Late Delivery from Avalon"
Every task involves constraint,
Solve the thing without complaint;
There are magic links and chains
Forged to loose our rigid brains.
Strictures, structures, though they bind,
Strangely liberate the mind.
-- James E. Falen
Narrative and metaphysics alike become flimsy and frivolous if they venture too far from the home base of all humanism -- the single, simple human life that we all more or less lead, with its crude elementals of nurture and appetite, love and competition, the sunshine of well-being and the inevitable night of death. We each live this tale. Fiction has no reason to be embarrassed about telling the same story again and again, since we all, with infinite variations, experience the same story.
-- John Updike
Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.
-- Mark Twain
RENAULT: And what in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
RICK: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
RENAULT: Waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
RICK (shrugging): I was misinformed.
A DEAD STATESMAN
I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?
-- Rudyard Kippling
Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.
-- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Some savage, spectacular suicide.
-- Stanislaw Lem
translated & adapted by Michael Kandel
A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.
-- Tim O'Brien, "How to Tell a True War Story"
If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn't as cynical as real life.
-- Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!
History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it.
-- Terry Pratchett, Mort
"Things that try to look like things often do look more like things than things. Well-known fact," said Granny. "But I don't hold with encouraging it."
-- Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters
"What's a philosopher?" said Brutha.
"Someone who's bright enough to find a job with no heavy lifting," said a voice in his head.
-- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
In God’s intention, a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and noblest end of marriage.
-- John Milton
I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy.
-- James Joyce, Ulysses
The Nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature.
The human body is the best picture of the human soul.
--Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
No matter what you think you think, you think the same as I think.
--Adam’s Rib (spoken by Spencer Tracy)
If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.
My friends from the prison, they ask unto me,
“How good, how good, does it feel to be free?”
And I answer them, most mysteriously,
“Are birds free from the chains of the skyways?”
-- Bob Dylan
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean-- neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.
-- Lewis Carroll
Writing is a perpetual choice between a thousand expressions, none of which satisfies me, none of which, above all, satisfies me without the others. Yet I ought to know that only music permits a succession of chords.
There is a secret society of seven men that controls the finances of the world. This is known to everyone but the details are not known. There are some who believe that it would be better if one of those seven men were a financier.
--R. A. Lafferty
The major problem of our time is the decay in the belief in personal immortality, and it cannot be dealt with while the average human being is either drudging like an ox or shivering in fear of the secret police... How right [the working classes] are to realize that the belly comes before the soul, not in the scale of values but in point of time!
-- George Orwell
Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.
-- Immanuel Kant
...Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.
-- W. H. Auden
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
I have been trying for a long time to understand God. Now I have made friends with him. To love him truly you must love change, and you must love a joke, these being the true inclinations of his own heart.
There is no God, I’m sure of that. But the more they’ve sought me out, the more convinced I am that there *are* holy men and women... And if they like, they’re welcome to include me in their prayers. Can’t hurt. None of us will free the world of intolerance alone. We need the people of God, especially if He isn’t there.
--Paul Monette, “My Priests”
HELMER: Before all else, you’re a wife and a mother.
NORA: I don’t believe in that anymore. I believe that, before all else, I’m a human being, no less than you-- or, anyway, I ought to try to become one.
-- Ibsen, A Doll House
“How different, sire, is what you are now doing, from what you did a little while ago!... now you weep.”
“There came upon me” [Xerxes] replied, “a sudden pity, when I thought of the shortness of man’s life, and considered that of all this host, so numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred years are gone by.”
Like anybody else, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will...
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968
The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown all our muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell.
-- Henry David Thoreau
--You must either be stronger than we are, or you must stay here.
--Is there not another alternative, said I, namely that we may persuade you to let us go?
--Could you, said he, persuade men who do not listen?
--Not possibly, said Glaucon.
-- Plato, Republic
Philosophy... is indeed outrageous, inherently so. It seeks to disquiet the foundations of our lives and to offer us in recompense nothing better than itself-- and this on the basis of no expert knowledge, of nothing closed to the ordinary human being, once... [one] lets himself or herself be informed by the process and ambition of philosophy.
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.
--J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit
These were choice documents to me... They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance.
-- Frederick Douglas
Be Kent unmannerly
When Lear is mad.
-- King Lear
Good historians, I suspect, whether they think about it or not, have the future in their bones. Besides the question: Why? the historian also asks the question: Whither?
--E. H. Carr
The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.
DE STOGUMBER: I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it... That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.
CAUCHON: Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?
-- G. B. Shaw, Saint Joan
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
-- Edward FitzGerald
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch; slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover.
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick
O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!
...We do not begin today. We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead... We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.
-- William James
The day is short; the task is great; the workmen are lazy; the reward is great, and the Master is insistent.... You are not called upon to complete the work, yet neither are you free not to begin it.
-- Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
-- Ecclesiastes 3:11
It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
--Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just hate it.
An old-shoe lover loves loving old shoes.
The years go by one after the other; time slips past us with out our being aware of it; we grow old like ordinary men and we shall end like them.
--Louis XIV (1638 - 1715)
The most important fact about American liberty is that it has never been a single idea, but a set of different and even contrary traditions in creative tension with one another. This diversity of libertarian ideas has created a culture of freedom which is more open and expansive than any unitary tradition alone could possibly be.
--David Hackett Fischer
Christmas time.... the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
-- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Now it is done; now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.
-- Red Smith, on the Shot Heard Round the World
Everyone enjoys stories of double lives and secret identities. Children have Superman; intellectuals have Wallace Stevens.
Who so shal telle a tale after a man
He moot reherce, as neigh as evere he kan
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche or large;
Or elles he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feeine thing, or finde wordes newe;
He may not spare although he were his brother:
He moot as wel saye oo word as another.
‘Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
-- Alexander Pope
This idea [standardized time zones] was first advanced and fought for by Sandford Fleming of Canada and Charles F. Dowd of the United States. I mention them chiefly because like so many benefactors of mankind they have been rewarded by total obscurity.
Every love relationship is based on unwritten conventions rashly agreed upon by the lovers during the first weeks of their love. On the one hand, they are living a sort of dream; on the other, without realizing it, they are drawing up the fine print of their contracts like the most hard-nosed of lawyers. O lovers! Be wary during those perilous first days!
Don't expect justice. Emily being taken like this, is not fair. It is not just. She never deserved to die so soon. There is no justice inherent in the universe... except what we put there. All the justice that exists, is what we make. So let us show compassion and sense and courage, in Emily's name.
--Norman Spinrad, eulogy for Emily Austin
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essential es invisible pour les yeux... C'est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.... Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité... Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé. Tu es responsable de ta rose...
--Le renard dans Saint-Exupéry, Le petit prince
Every writer hopes, like a medieval Christian, that after his period of honorable suffering, bliss will follow as a reward.... One day, the writer tells himself, the big break will come, and his money troubles will be over.... It's not true. [...] The writer, for all his childishness, needs to face this fact and deal with it.
--John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist
Val was an optimist herself.... she did try to make the best of things. It seemed to her that that was the way one should behave... Making the best of things was what courage meant, in her opinion; that was the right action in the face of life. And how hard it was, given how dark her thoughts had become, how dismal everything sometimes appeared to her; how against the grain of her temperament it had become. But she kept at it anyway, as an act of will.... all it did was get her laughed at... as if being optimistic was a matter of a somewhat obtuse intelligence, or at best the luck of biochemistry, rather than a policy that had to be maintained, sometimes in the midst of the blackest moods imaginable.... It took an effort to be optimistic, it was a moral position. But no one understood that.
--Kim Stanley Robinson, Antarctica
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed....
-- The Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776
Through art we are all Don Quixotes battling Time and Death.
-- George Rochberg, "On the Third String Quartet"
The truth of religion comes from its symbolic rendering of man's moral experience; it proceeds intuitively and imaginatively. Its falsehood comes from its attempt to substitute itself for science and to pretend that its poetic statements are information about reality.
-- Eugene D. Genovese
CREATION MYTH ON A MOEBIUS BAND
This world's just mad enough to have been made
By the Being his beings into Being prayed.
-- Howard Nemerov
Estragon. -- Je ne peux plus continuer comme ça.
Vladimir. -- On dit ça.
-- Samuel Beckett, "En attendant Godot"
It is by now proverbial that every proverb has its opposite. For every Time is money there is a Stop and smell the roses. When someone says You never stand in the same river twice someone else has already replied There is nothing new under the sun. In the mind's arithmetic, 1 plus -1 equals 2. Truths are not quantities but scripts: Become for a moment the mind in which this is true.
-- James Richardson
What, in ill thoughts again? Men must endure
Their going hence even as their coming hither.
Ripeness is all.
-- King Lear
Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.
-- James Baldwin
Unscientific man is beset by a deplorable desire to have been right. The scientist is distinguished by a desire to be right.
-- W. V. Quine
Somebody recalls Vaclav Havel’s dictum that “truth and love will triumph over hatred and lies.” Chomsky’s response? "It’s a nice thought.” Yes, but is it true or false? “Neither. It could become true, to the extent that people struggle to make it come true.”
-- Robert Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent
There are few statements that can be made about America whose contradictions are not almost equally true.
-- Godfrey Hodgson
Wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, if some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this.
-- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility; yet she did not support the poor and needy.
-- Ezekiel 16:49
And don't try to tell us there's no way to go but up, 'cause the truth is, there's always more down.
-- Gunn, in "Happy Anniversary" (Angel, Season 2)
Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.... Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life.
-- John Stuart Mill, Autobiography
MUNCH: Okay now I get it. You are saving your really good lies for some smarter cop. Is that it? I'm just a doughnut in the on-deck circle. Wait until the real guy gets back. Wait until the big guy gets back. I'm just the secretary. I'm just Montel Williams. You want to talk to Larry King."
SUSPECT: I'm telling the truth.
MUNCH: I've been a murder police for ten years. If you are going to lie to me you lie to me with respect!
-- Paul Attanasio, "Gone for Goode" (Homicide, first episode)
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
-- Steven Wright
I hold it to be an impious and detestable maxim that, politically speaking, the people have a right to do anything; and yet I have asserted that all authority originates in the will of the majority. Am I, then, in contradiction with myself? A general law, which bears the name of justice, has been made and sanctioned, not only by a majority of this or that people, but by a majority of mankind. The rights of every people are therefore confined within the limits of what is just.... When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right of the majority to command, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
I attribute my success to ambition, determination, guts, integrity, fairness, honesty and having enough money to buy people with those qualities.
-- Lord Julius (Dave Sim, Cerebus #38)
Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know.
-- Groucho Marx, Animal Crackers
The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.
-- George Bernard Shaw
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
-- John Lennon
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
-- e e cummings
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
-- Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"
The buddah can reside in the gears of a motorcycle as easily as in a flower on a mountaintop. To believe otherwise is to demean the buddah; which is to demean one’s self.
And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Maybe philosophical problems are hard not because they are divine or irreducible or meaningless or workaday science, but because the mind of Homo sapiens lacks the cognitive equipment to solve them. We are organisms, not angels... Our minds evolved... to solve problems, [not]... to answer any question we are capable of asking.
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
-- Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
...America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
-- Langston Hughes
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
-- Alfred Lord Tennyson
The grave is the only thing which every man has honestly acquired and can honestly claim.
-- Bereshith Rabbah
We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges.
-- Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer
I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts-- because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting... I had been told that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of goodness. It isn’t... The goodness is in the laughing. I grok it is a bravery-- and a sharing-- against pain and sorrow and defeat.
--Robert A. Heinlein
The appearance of strength is all about you. It would seem to last forever. However... the rotten tree-trunk, until the very moment when the storm-blast breaks it in two, has all the appearance of might it ever had. The storm-blast whistles through the branches of the Empire even now. Listen... and you will hear the creaking.
The theoretical fruits of deliberate oversimplification through idealization are not to be denied... Reality in all its messy particularity is too complicated to theorize about, taken straight. The issue is, rather (since every idealization is a strategic choice), which idealizations might really shed some light... which will just land us... diverting fairy tales.
--Daniel C. Dennett
Several things dovetailed in my mind and it at once struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature -- which Shakespeare possessed so enormously -- I mean Negative Capability, that is, when Man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.
-- John Keats
What matters finally is not the world's judgment of oneself but one's own judgment of the world.... Any writer who lacks this final arrogance will not survive very long in America.
-- Gore Vidal
The first mistake in creation is aloneness... It's the first time God says ‘lo tov' [not good]. So clearly gay people are not meant to be alone now either.
-- Rabbi Steven Greenberg
Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
-- Ecclesiastes 12:12
There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless. A philosophical doctrine begins as a plausible description of the universe; with the passage of the years it becomes a mere chapter--if not a paragraph or a name--in the history of philosophy. In literature, this eventual caducity is even more notorious. The Quixote --Menard told me--was, above all, an entertaining book; now it is the occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical insolence and obscene de luxe editions. Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst.
-- Jorge Louis Borges
Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses --
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon --
Rationalists would wear sombreros.
-- Wallace Stevens
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,
Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,
A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.
-- Wallace Stevens
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word -- the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
-- Philip Larkin, MCMXIV
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-- W. B. Yeats
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
-- W. H. Auden
It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.
--Wittgenstein, Tractatus 6.44
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
-- Edna St. Vincent Millay
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
-- Shakespeare, sonnet #116
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
-- James Madison, "Political Observations", 1795
Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions agst. [against] danger real or pretended from abroad.
-- James Madison, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 1798
As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another’s plenty, as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise: and a man can no more justly make use of another’s necessity, to force him to become his vassal, by with-holding that relief, God requires him to afford to the wants of his brother, than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, master him to his obedience, and with a dagger at his throat offer him death or slavery.
-- John Locke, Two Treatises Upon Civil Government
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins
Epicurus's old questions are yet unanswered. Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?
-- David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, p. 198
Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.
-- George Eliot, Middlemarch, Chapter 10
All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt; and no one who follows the Cartesian method will ever be satisfied until he has formally recovered all those beliefs which in form he has given up.... A person may, it is true, in the course of his studies, find reason to doubt what he began by believing; but in that case he doubts because he has a positive reason for it, and not on account of the Cartesian maxim. Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.
-- Charles S. Peirce, "Some Consequences of Four Incapacities"
From the twilight of day till the twilight of evening, a leopard, in the last years of the thirteenth century, would see some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who changed, a wall and perhaps a stone gutter filled with dry leaves. He did not know, could not know, that he longed for love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of tearing things to pieces and the wind carrying the scent of a deer, but something suffocated and rebelled within him and God spoke to him in a dream: “You live and will die in this prison so that a man I know of may see you a certain number of times and not forget you and place your figure and symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have given a word to the poem.” God, in the dream, illumined the animal’s brutishness and the animal understood these reasons and accepted his destiny, but, when he awoke, there was in him only an obscure resignation, a valorous ignorance, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of a beast.
Years later, Dante was dying in Ravenna, as unjustified and as lonely as any other man. In a dream, God declared to him the secret purpose of his life and work; Dante, in wonderment, knew at last who and what he was and blessed the bitterness of his life. Tradition relates that, upon waking, he felt that he had received and lost an infinite thing, something that he would not be able to recuperate or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of men.
-- Jorge Louis Borges (from Dreamtigers)
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
-- W. H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must he saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.
-- Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry.
-- Charles Sanders Peirce, "The First Rule of Logic"
I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.
-- Emerson, "Self-Reliance"
But still. Still.
Bless me anyway.
I want more life. I can't help myself. I do.
I've lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much worse, but... You see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children, they live. Death usually has to take life away. I don't know if that's just the animal. I don't know if it's not braver to die. But I recognize the habit. The addiction to being alive. We live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the best I can do. It's so much not enough, so inadequate but... Bless me anyway. I want more life.
-- Tony Kusher, Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, Act 5, scene 5
HARPER: I burned dinner.
HARPER: Not my dinner. My dinner was fine. Your dinner. I put it back in the oven and turned everything up as high as it could go and I watched till it burned black. It's still hot. Very hot. Want it?
JOE: You didn't have to do that.
HARPER: I know. It just seemed like the kind of thing a mentally deranged sex-starved pill-popping housewife would do.
-- Tony Kusher, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches, Act 1, scene 8
The pathos of death is this, that when the days of one's life are ended, those days that were so crowded with business and felt so heavy in their passing, what remains of one in memory should usually be so slight a thing. The phantom of an attitude, the echo of a certain mode of thought, a few pages of print, some invention, or some victory we gained in a brief critical hour, are all that can survive the best of us. It is as if the whole of a man's significance had now shrunk into the phantom of an attitude, into a mere musical note or phrase suggestive of his singularity...
-- William James
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
-- Philip K. Dick
La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.
[In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.]
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
— L. P. Hartley
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
— William Faulkner
There is a fundamental level at which Marx's nightmare vision is right: capitalism, the market system, whatever you want to call it, is a product of humanity, but each and every one of us confronts it as an autonomous and deeply alien force. Its ends, to the limited and debatable extent that it can even be understood as having them, are simply inhuman. The ideology of the market tell us that we face not something inhuman but superhuman, tells us to embrace our inner zombie cyborg and lose ourselves in the dance. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry or run screaming. But, and this is I think something Marx did not sufficiently appreciate, human beings confront all the structures which emerge from our massed interactions in this way. A bureaucracy, or even a thoroughly democratic polity of which one is a citizen, can feel, can be, just as much of a cold monster as the market. We have no choice but to live among these alien powers which we create, and to try to direct them to human ends.
Pain or damage don't end the world; or despair; or fuckin' beatin's. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man—and give some back.
—Al Swerenden in Deadwood, Episode 19, by Michael Almereyda
The real fear today is that the world we now live in was intended by those who profit from it.
War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties; the minorities are either intimidated into silence, or brought slowly around by a subtle process of persuasion which may seem to them really to be converting them. Of course, the ideal of perfect loyalty, perfect uniformity is never really attained. The classes upon whom the amateur work of coercion falls are unwearied in their zeal, but often their agitation instead of converting, merely serves to stiffen their resistance. Minorities are rendered sullen, and some intellectual opinion bitter and satirical. But in general, the nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty - or mystic devotion to the State - becomes the major imagined human value. Other values, such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.... [F]or the sake of a war of offensive self-defense, undertaken to support a difficult cause to the slogan of "democracy," [the American nation] would reach the highest level ever known of collective effort.... The question whether the American nation would act like an enlightened democracy going to war for the sake of high ideals, or like a State-obsessed herd, has been decisively answered
— Randolph Bourne (1918)
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle.... If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
— Frederick Douglass, 1857
Everything is so fragile. There's so much conflict, so much pain...you keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along -- that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy -- I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.
—Kitty Pryde in Astonishing X-Men #22 by Joss Whedon.
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
—Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
And now what is the result of all these considerations and quotations? It is negative in one sense, but positive in another. It absolutely forbids us to be forward in pronouncing on the meaninglessness of forms of existence other than our own; and it commands us to tolerate, respect, and indulge those whom we see harmlessly interested and happy in their own ways, however unintelligible these may be to us. Hands off: neither the whole of truth nor the whole of good is revealed to any single observer, although each observer gains a partial superiority of insight from the peculiar position in which he stands. Even prisons and sick-rooms have their special revelations. It is enough to ask of each of us that he should be faithful to his own opportunities and make the most of his own blessings, without presuming to regulate the rest of the vast field.
— William James, "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings"
Homo sum : humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Vel me monere hoc vel percontari puta:
Rectum'st, ego ut faciam ; non est, te ut deterream.
-- Publius Terentius Afer, Heauton Timorumenos
I am human: nothing human is alien to me. Either I want to find out for myself or I want to advise you: think what you like. If you're right, I'll do what you do. If you're wrong, I'll set you straight.
-- Ibid., translated by K. Anthony Appiah
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
—W. S. Merwin, "For the Anniversary of My Death" (1993)
...Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.
... Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.
Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.
— John Scalzi, 2005
“This has been a good year.” Or, “This has been a bad year, right?” What sorts of statements are these? What consensus could there be on a year’s goodness? I think of early medieval annals. “721 AD–drought; 722 AD–(blank); 723 AD–(blank); 724 AD–(blank); 725 AD–bad harvest, frightening comet in the west.” Poor helpless humanity.... All years are terrible years; the predicament of being human tends towards the negative. We read the news and are left feeling nothing more noble than “only I have escaped to tell thee.” A given year can be pronounced good only in a solipsistic sense.
— Teju Cole, "Envoi" (2013)
“…Everyone’s entitled to an Explainer—in whatever form he chooses—at the end of his life.” …
“I want to know if it’s meant anything,” Forlesen said. “If what I suffered — if it’s been worth it.”
“No,” the little man said. “Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Maybe.”
— Gene Wolfe, “Forlesen”
It is a characteristic of human thought that our concepts do not stay put behind the neat logical fences philosophers like to erect for them. Like sly coyotes, they slip past these flimsy barriers to range far and wide, picking up consorts of all varieties, and, in astonishingly fecund acts of miscegenation shocking to conceptual purists, leave offspring who bear a disturbing resemblance to the wayward parent and inherit the impulse to roam the old territory. The philosophical guardians of these offspring, trying to shake off the taint of sexual scandal but feeling guilty about the effort, don't quite know whether to cover up a concept's pedigree or, by means of the discovery/justification distinction, deny that it matters. The latter strategy can work only if, like keepers of a zoo, the philosophers can keep their animals fenced in. Feminist epistemologists track these creatures sneaking past their fences while their keepers dream of tamed animals happy to remain confined.
— Elizabeth Anderson, "Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense"
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.
—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Action is transitory - a step, a blow,
The motion of a muscle - this way or that -
'Tis done; and in the after-vacancy
We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed:
Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark,
And has the nature of infinity.
-- William Wordsworth, The Borderers
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
- Algernon Charles Swinburne, "The Garden of Proserpine”
That's a hard mystery of Jefferson's.
What did he mean? Of course the easy way
Is to decide it simply isn't true.
It may not be. I heard a fellow say so.
But never mind, the Welshman got it planted
Where it will trouble us a thousand years.
Each age will have to reconsider it.
— Robert Frost
BUFFY: Does it ever get easy?
GILES: You mean life?
BUFFY: Yeah. Does it get easy?
GILES: What do you want me to say?
BUFFY: Lie to me.
GILES: Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
-- Joss Whedon, "Lie to Me"
Do you remember the polemic that accompanied the invention of language? Mystification, puerile fantasy, degeneration of the race and decline of the State, treason against Nature, attack on affectivity, criminal neglect of inspiration; language was accused of everything (without, of course, using language) at that time.
And the creation of writing, and grammar--do you think that that happened without a fight?
-- François Le Lionnais, Oulipo: First Manifesto (Trans. Warren Motte, Jr.)
Antoninus said to Rabbi, "Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?" He replied, "Were it reversed, you would ask the same question."
-- Sanhedrin 91b
Meeting a friend in a corridor, Wittgenstein said: “Tell me, why do people always say that it was natural for men to assume that the sun went around the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?” His friend said, “Well, obviously, because it just looks as if the sun is going around the earth.” To which the philosopher replied, “Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth was rotating?”
— Tom Stoppard, Jumpers
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
-- Joan Didion
Of course it should not be too surprising to find out that your life story has included an event, something important, that you have known nothing about -- your life story is in and of itself something that you know very little about.
-- Philip Roth, I Married a Communist, p. 15
...that curious surprise we experience when we first come back into the streets after days given over to sorrow and death; we are bewildered that the world should be going on as usual and unable to determine which is real, the inner pang or the outward seeming.
— Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House, Chapter 4
No, we had never conquered death, only engineered reprieves (the pill, the powder, the angioplasty, the Fourth Age) -- enacted our conviction that more life, even a little more life, might yet yield the pleasure or wisdom we wanted or had missed in it it. No one goes home from a triple bypass or a longevity treatment expecting to live forever. Even Lazarus left the grave knowing he'd die a second time.
But he came forth. He came forth gratefully. I was grateful.
-- Robert Charles Wilson, Spin
Some people say they can't understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?
Read it four times.
-- Paris Review Interview
Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all His laws. our passions, ambitions, avarice, love and resentment, etc., posses so much metaphysical subtlety and so much overpowering eloquence that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience and convert both to their party.
-- John Adams, writing to Thomas Jefferson
Any writer will admire a good sentence. Sentences can lilt, and drift, and settle lightly down. Sentences punch. Sentences thrust, and parry. Sentences can extend out past the point at which they might reasonably have been expected to end, bending under the weight of first one dependent clause, then another, tiring the reader out, making her wonder when the line will end, but not, perhaps, without hope that the exercise will deliver some point, however small -- some perception or image that will arrive, at the very end, like, say, a caramel apple. Who would argue that the form of the sentence should not help deliver the sentence's meaning?
-- Tom Piazza, "The Devil and Gustav Flaubert"
Wherever your life ends, there all of it ends. The usefulness of living lies not in duration but in what you make of it. Some have lived long and lived little. See to it while you are still here. Whether you have lived enough depends not on a count of years but on your will. Do you think you will never arrive whither you are ceaselessly heading? Yet every road has its end. And, if it is a relief to have company, is not the whole world proceeding at the same pace as you are?
-- Michel de Montaigne, Essays, "To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die", trans. M. A. Screech
Nothing new, no time-saving devices, -- simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and searching out the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs, that was taught in the groves by Plato, that formed the trivium and quadrivium, and is to-day laid before the freedmen's sons by Atlanta University. And this course of study will not change; its methods will grow more deft and effectual, its content richer by toil of scholar and sight of seer; but the true college will ever have one goal, -- not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.
-- W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Chapter 5
Only the companion of a bonsai (there are owners of bonsai, but they are of a lesser breed) fully understands the relationship. There is an exclusive and individual treeness to the tree because it is a living thing, and living things change, and there are definite ways in which the tree desires to change. A man sees the tree and in his mind makes certain extensions and extrapolations of what he sees, and sets about making them happen. The tree in turn will do only what a tree can do, will resist to the death any attempt to do what it cannot do, or to do it in less time than it needs. The shaping of a bonsai is therefore always a compromise and always a cooperation. A man cannot create a bonsai, nor can a tree; it takes both and they must understand each other. It takes a long time to do that. One memorizes one’s bonsai, every twig, the angle of every crevice and needle, and, lying awake at night or in a pause a thousand miles away, one recalls this or that line or mass, one makes one’s plans. With wire and water and light, with tilting and with the planting of water-robbing weeds or heavy root-shading ground cover, one explains to the tree what one wants, and if the explanation is well enough made, and there is great enough understanding, the tree will respond and obey—almost. Always there will be its own self-respecting, highly individual variation: Very well, I shall do what you want, but I will do it my own way. And for those variations, the tree is always willing to present a clear and logical explanation, and more often than not (almost smiling) it will make clear to the man that he could have avoided it if his understanding had been better. It is the slowest sculpture in the world, and there is, at times, doubt as to which is being sculpted, man or tree.
-- Theodore Sturgeon, "Slow Sculpture"
The pathos of death is this, that when the days of one's life are ended, those days that were so crowded with business and felt so heavy in their passing, what remains of one in memory should usually be so slight a thing. The phantom of an attitude, the echo of a certain mode of thought, a few pages of print, some invention, or some victory we gained in a brief critical hour, are all that can survive the best of us. It is as if the whole of a man's significance had now shrunk into the phantom of an attitude, into a mere musical note or phrase suggestive of his singularity — happy are those whose singularity gives a note so clear as to be victorious over the inevitable pity of such a diminution and abridgement.
— William James
I spent the remainder of the night staring at the stars; it was the first time I had ever really experienced the majesty of the constellations… At first all the stars seemed like a featureless mass of lights, however beautiful, like sparks that fly upward from a fire. Soon, of course, I began to see… shapes, some corresponding to constellations of which I had heard, others that were, I am afraid, entirely of my own imagining… When these celestial animals burst into view, I was awed by their beauty. But when they became so strongly evident (as they quickly did) that I could no longer dismiss them by an act of will, I began to feel as frightened of them as I was of falling into that midnight abyss over which they writhed; yet this was not a simple physical and instinctive fear like the other, but rather a sort of philosophical horror at the thought of a cosmos in which rude pictures of beats and monsters had been painted with flaming suns.
— Gene Wolfe, The Sword of the Lictor, chapter 13
But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 60, "The Line"
While we can continue to abhor the system of human bondage that flourished in the Old South, there is much we can learn from a more dispassionate examination of the arguments used to defend it. We have sought to distance the slaveholders and their creed, to define them as very unlike ourselves. Yet their processes of rationalization and self-justification were not so very different from our own, or from those of any civilization of human actors. The persistence of modern racism is but one forceful reminder of the ways that human beings always view the world in terms of inherited systems of belief and explanation that only partially reflect the reality they are meant to describe. By understanding how others have fashioned and maintained their systems of meaning, we shall be better equipped to evaluate, criticize and perhaps even change our own.
-- Drew Gilpin Faust
A novel does not assert anything; a novel searches and poses questions. I don't know whether my nation will perish and I don't know which of my characters is right. I invent stories, confront one with another, and by this means I ask questions. The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything. When Don Quixote went out into the world, that world turned into a mystery before his eyes. That is the legacy of the first European novel to the entire subsequent history of the novel. The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead. The totalitarian world, whether founded on Marx, Islam or anything else, is a world of answers rather than questions. There, the novel has no place. In any case, it seems to me that all over the world people nowadays prefer to judge rather than to understand, to answer rather than ask, so that the voice of the novel can hardly be heard over the noisy foolishness of human certainties.
— Milan Kundera
There’s an ancient Jewish teaching that says that every human being should carry in their pockets two pieces of paper: on one of them you should write the words “For my sake was the world created” On the other you should write: “I am but dust and ashes.” The teaching continues telling you to reach for each these papers at the moment that you are feeling the opposite... But there’s another pair — hinted at by the pair that I’ve already mentioned — that I’d also advise you to have on hand. So here’s another version of the parable. Every human being should carry in their pockets two pieces of paper: on one of them you should write the words “All others experience the world as I do.” On the other you should write: “My perspective is mine alone.” There are moments that you will need to pull each of these from your pockets: there are times when you will assume too much commonality with those around you, and times when you will assume too little.... So keep those contradictions in your pockets... And when circumstances require, pull them from your pockets and read them aloud to yourself.
— Tamar Gendler
…although there is plenty of space on a gravestone to contain, bound in moss, the abridged version of a man's life, detail is always welcome.
God wills us free; man wills us slaves.
I will as God wills; God's will be done.
Here lies the body of
a native of Africa who died
March 1773, aged about 60 years.
Tho' born in a land of slavery,
He was born free.
Tho' he lived in a land of liberty,
He lived a slave.
Till by his honest, tho' stolen labors,
He acquired the source of slavery,
Which gave him his freedom;
Tho' not long before
Death, the grand tyrant
Gave him his final emancipation,
And set him on a footing with kings.
Tho' a slave to vice,
He practised those virtues
Without which kings are but slaves.
— Epigraph to a Grave in Concord, Massachusetts
Virtues don't excuse sins; they cohabit with them. Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder. Perhaps worse he was a slaveholder who comprehended, more than any other, the moral failing of slavery, and it's potential to bring the country to war, and yet at the end of his life he argued for slavery's expansion, and on his death many of his slaves were sent to the auction block. At his end, Jefferson sided with those who would eventually bring about the deaths of 600,000 Americans… But Jefferson was a beautiful writer, and a great intellect, whose thinking and prose I consistently find stunning. This admiration does not negate his moral cowardice. Both are true at the same time....
I don't know that his "virtues outweigh his vices." That presumes a kind of grand authority that I neither want, nor feel qualified, to exercise. It's just not a case I would ever make. Nor am I really interested in making the case, it's sort of irrelevant to me. It seems to originate from the need to either declare someone a "good person" or a "bad person." I think it's clear from my writing on slavery and race that I don't really see the world that way.
...If I disqualified people for the horrendous ideas they held or advanced, my personal canon would be sliced in half. I don't think those horrendous ideas should be shooed away. But they aren't a counter to whatever better ideas the person espoused. You can be a horrendous bigot, and a great father. You can be a raving misogynist and a great novelist. Neither cancels the other out--though I understand people often write as though it should.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates
The non-scientist's relation to modern science is basically craven: we look to its discoveries and technology to save us from disease, to give us a faster ride and a softer life, and at the same time we shrink from what it has to tell us of our perilous and insignificant place in the cosmos. Not that threats to our safety and significance were absent from the pre-scientific world, or that arguments against a God-bestowed human grandeur were lacking before Darwin. But our century's revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad mathematical violence at the heart of matter have scorched us deeper than we know.
-- John Updike
Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature.... in the role of consultation, of conference, of persuasion, of discussion, in formation of public opinion, which in the long run is self- corrective, except faith in the capacity of the intelligence of the common man to respond with commonsense to the free play of facts and ideas which are secured by effective guarantees of free inquiry, free assembly and free communication? I am willing to leave to upholders of totalitarian states of the right and the left the view that faith in the capacities of intelligence is utopian....
... Intolerance, abuse, calling of names because of differences of opinion about religion or politics or business, as well as because of differences of race, color, wealth or degree of culture are treason to the democratic way of life. For everything which bars freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sets and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life. Merely legal guarantees of the civil liberties of free belief, free expression, free assembly are of little avail if in daily life freedom of communication, the give and take of ideas, facts, experiences, is choked by mutual suspicion, by abuse, by fear and hatred....
... To take as far as possible every conflict which arises--and they are bound to arise--out of the atmosphere and medium of force, of violence as a means of settlement into that of discussion and of intelligence is to treat those who disagree-- even profoundly--with us as those from whom we may learn, and in so far, as friends. A genuinely democratic faith in peace is faith in the possibility of conducting disputes, controversies and conflicts as cooperative undertakings in which both parties learn by giving the other a chance to express itself, instead of having one party conquer by forceful suppression of the other--a suppression which is none the less one of violence when it takes place by psychological means of ridicule, abuse, intimidation, instead of by overt imprisonment or in concentration camps. ...[T]he belief that the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one's own life-experience, is inherent in the democratic personal way of life.
— John Dewey, "Creative Democracy" (1939)
There aren’t many now who leave from the same world they were born into. Not here, not anywhere on earth as far as I can tell or know; the simplest and most unchanging of human societies have been so shattered in the last hundred years, people flung into centrifuges of change and loss, that there comes to be nothing at last to say good-bye to. I was leaving the world, but it was not my world I was leaving.
— John Crowley, Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr