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It's Albawtaka Review's tradition to choose a quotation that most represents – as the editor sees it – each issue or each story. Here are the quotations permeating our issues.
There are few efforts more conducive to humility than that of the translator trying to communicate an incommunicable beauty. Yet, unless we do try, something unique and never surpassed will cease to exist except in the libraries of a few inquisitive book lovers.
Edith Hamilton (1867–1963), U.S. classical scholar, translator. Introduction to Three Greek Plays (1937).
Just as the office worker dreams of murdering his hated boss and so is saved from really murdering him, so it is with the author; with his great dreams he helps his readers to survive, to avoid their worst intentions. And society, without realizing it … respects and even exalts him, albeit with a kind of jealousy, fear and even repulsion, since few people want to discover the horrors that lurk in the depths of their souls. This is the highest mission of great literature, and there is no other.
Ernesto Sábato (b. 1911), Argentinian novelist, essayist. Independent (London, 20 June 1992).
The … problem that confronts homosexuals is that they set out to win the love of a “real” man. If they succeed, they fail. A man who “goes with” other men is not what they would call a real man. The conundrum is incapable of resolution, but that does not make homosexuals give it up.
Quentin Crisp (b. 1908), British author. The Naked Civil Servant, ch. 9 (1968).
Give us a religion that will help us to live—we can die without assistance.
Elbert Hubbard (1856–1915), U.S. author. Selected Writings, vol. 1, “Index” (1921).
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
Mark Twain, "Bringing Up Father," Reader's Digest, September 1937.
Human beings are compelled to live within a lie, but they can be compelled to do so only because they are in fact capable of living in this way. Therefore not only does the system alienate humanity, but at the same time alienated humanity supports this system as its own involuntary masterplan, as a degenerate image of its own degeneration, as a record of people’s own failure as individuals.
Václav Havel (b. 1936), Czech playwright, president. Living in Truth, pt. 1, sct. 6, “The Power of the Powerless” (1986).
"Let there be light!" said God, and there was light!
"Let there be blood!" says man, and there's a sea!
Lord Byron (1788-1824), English poet. Don Juan, cto. 7, st. 41
"My country, right or wrong" is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying "My mother, drunk or sober."
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), British author. The Defendant, "Defence of Patriotism" (1901).
I had supposed until that time that it was quite common for parents to love their children, but the war persuaded me that it is a rare exception. I had supposed that most people liked money better than almost anything else, but I discovered that they liked destruction even better. I had supposed that intellectuals frequently loved truth, but I found here again that not ten per cent of them prefer truth to popularity.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher, mathematician. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, vol. 2, ch. 1 (1968), of World War I.
Hope is the only universal liar who never loses his reputation for veracity.
Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-99), U.S. lawyer, orator. Speech, Manhattan Liberal Club (published in Truth-Seeker, 28 Feb. 1892).
Maybe I couldn’t make it. Maybe I don’t have a pretty smile, good teeth, nice tits, long legs, a cheeky arse, a sexy voice. Maybe I don’t know how to handle men and increase my market value, so that the rewards due to the feminine will accrue to me. Then again, maybe I’m sick of the masquerade. I’m sick of pretending eternal youth. I’m sick of belying my own intelligence, my own will, my own sex. I’m sick of peering at the world through false eyelashes, so everything I see is mixed with a shadow of bought hairs; I’m sick of weighting my head with a dead mane, unable to move my neck freely, terrified of rain, of wind, of dancing too vigorously in case I sweat into my lacquered curls. I’m sick of the Powder Room. I’m sick of pretending that some fatuous male’s self-important pronouncements are the objects of my undivided attention, I’m sick of going to films and plays when someone else wants to, and sick of having no opinions of my own about either. I’m sick of being a transvestite. I refuse to be a female impersonator. I am a woman, not a castrate.
Germaine Greer (b. 1939), Australian feminist writer. The Female Eunuch, “Soul: The Stereotype” (1970).
The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied … but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.
John Berger (b. 1926), British author, critic. “The Soul and the Operator,” in Expressen (Stockholm; 19 March 1990; repr. in Keeping a Rendezvous, 1992).
Guilt always hurries towards its complement, punishment; only there does its satisfaction lie.
Lawrence Durrell (1912–90), British author. Justine, pt. 3 (1957).
The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas—uncertainty, progress, change—into crimes.
Salman Rushdie (b. 1947), Indian-born British author. Is Nothing Sacred?, Herbert Reade Memorial Lecture, 6 Feb. 1990.
Feminist art is not some tiny creek running off the great river of real art. It is not some crack in an otherwise flawless stone. It is, quite spectacularly I think, art which is not based on the subjugation of one half of the species. It is art which will take the great human themes—love, death, heroism, suffering, history itself—and render them fully human. It may also, though perhaps our imaginations are so mutilated now that we are incapable even of the ambition, introduce a new theme, one as great and as rich as those others—should we call it “joy”?
Andrea Dworkin (b. 1946), U.S. feminist critic. “Feminism, Art, and My Mother Sylvia,” speech, 16 April 1974, at Smith College, Northampton, Mass. (published in Our Blood, ch. 1, 1976).
Drink! for you know not whence you came
Drink! for you know not why you go,
Omar Khayyám (11th–12th century), Persian astronomer, poet. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, st. 74 (tr. by Edward FitzGerald, 1879).
The people I’m furious with are the Women’s Liberationists. They keep getting up on soapboxes and proclaiming women are brighter than men. That’s true, but it should be kept quiet or it ruins the whole racket.
Anita Loos (1893–1981), U.S. screenwriter. Quoted in: Observer (London, 30 Dec. 1973).
Is there any thing beyond?—who knows? He that can’t tell. Who tells there is? He who don’t know. And when shall he know? Perhaps, when he don’t expect it, and generally when he don’t wish it. In this last respect, however, all are not alike; it depends a good deal upon education, something upon nerves and habits—but most upon digestion.
Lord Byron (1788–1824), English poet. Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 3, (ed. by Leslie Marchand, 1973–81), entry for 18 Feb. 1814.
The cannon thunders … limbs fly in all directions … one can hear the groans of victims and the howling of those performing the sacrifice … it’s Humanity in search of happiness.
Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), French poet. Appendix to Prose Poems, “Plans and Notes: For Civil War” (published in Complete Works, vol. 1, “Shorter Prose Poems,” ed. by Yves-Gérard le Dantec; rev. by Claude Pichois, 1953).
The male has been persuaded to assume a certain onerous and disagreeable rôle with the promise of rewards—material and psychological. Women may in the first place even have put it into his head. BE A MAN! may have been, metaphorically, what Eve uttered at the critical moment in the garden of Eden.
Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957), British author, painter. The Art of Being Ruled, “Call Yourself a Man!” (1926).
It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness & of pain: of strength & freedom. The beauty of disappointment & never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature, & everlasting beauty of monotony.
Benjamin Britten (1913–76), British composer. Letter, 29 June 1937 (published in Letters from a Life: Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, vol. 1, “A Working Life,” 1991). Britten wrote this while listening to the “Abschied”—the finale of Mahler’s song cycle Das Lied von der Erde.
New York is the biggest mouth in the world. It appears to be prime example of the herd instinct, leading the universal urban conspiracy to beguile man from his birthright (the good ground), to hang him by his eyebrows from skyhooks above hard pavement, to crucify him, sell him, or be sold by him.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869–1959), U.S. architect. The Living City, pt. 1, “The-Shadow-of-the-Wall—Primitive Instincts Still Alive” (1958).
The great end of all human industry is the attainment of happiness. For this were arts invented, sciences cultivated, laws ordained, and societies modelled, by the most profound wisdom of patriots and legislators. Even the lonely savage, who lies exposed to the inclemency of the elements and the fury of wild beasts, forgets not, for a moment, this grand object of his being.
David Hume (1711–76), Scottish philosopher, historian. Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, pt. 1, “The Stoic” (1742; repr. in The Philosophical Works of David Hume, vol. 3, 1826).
I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
Alexander Pope (1688–1744), English satirical poet. Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness [Frederick, Prince of Wales].
I do not know if you remember the tale of the girl who saves the ship under mutiny by sitting on the powder barrel with her lighted torch … and all the time knowing that it is empty? This has seemed to me a charming image of the women of my time. There they were, keeping the world in order … by sitting on the mystery of life, and knowing themselves that there was no mystery.
Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen] (1885-1962), Danish author. Seven Gothic Tales, "The Old Chevalier" (1934).
Every man is occasionally visited by the suspicion that the planet on which he is riding is not really going anywhere; that the Force which controls its measured eccentricities hasn’t got anything special in mind. If he broods on this somber theme long enough he gets the doleful idea that the laughing children on a merry-go-round or the thin, fine hands of a lady’s watch are revolving more purposely than he is.
James Thurber (1894–1961), U.S. humorist, illustrator. Collecting Himself, “Thinking Ourselves Into Trouble,” pt. 1 (1989).
There is much pain that is quite noiseless; and vibrations that make human agonies are often a mere whisper in the roar of hurrying existence. There are glances of hatred that stab and raise no cry of murder; robberies that leave man or woman for ever beggared of peace and joy, yet kept secret by the sufferer—committed to no sound except that of low moans in the night, seen in no writing except that made on the face by the slow months of suppressed anguish and early morning tears. Many an inherited sorrow that has marred a life has been breathed into no human ear.
George Eliot (1819–80), English novelist, editor. Felix Holt, the Radical, Introduction (1866).
I have found little that is “good” about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think.
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), Austrian psychiatrist. Letter, 9 Oct. 1918 (published in The International Psycho-Analytical Library no. 59, “Psycho-Analysis and Faith: The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oscar Pfister,” 1963).
Madame, it is an old word and each one takes it new and wears it out himself. It is a word that fills with meaning as a bladder with air and the meaning goes out of it as quickly. It may be punctured as a bladder is punctured and patched and blown up again and if you have not had it it does not exist for you. All people talk of it, but those who have had it are marked by it, and I would not wish to speak of it further since of all things it is the most ridiculous to talk of and only fools go through it many times.
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Death in the Afternoon, ch. 11 (1932).
Let judges secretly despair of justice: their verdicts will be more acute. Let generals secretly despair of triumph; killing will be defamed. Let priests secretly despair of faith: their compassion will be true.
Leonard Cohen (b. 1934), Canadian singer, poet, novelist. The Spice-Box Of Earth, “Lines From My Grandfather’s Journal” (1961).
Suffering is by no means a privilege, a sign of nobility, a reminder of God. Suffering is a fierce, bestial thing, commonplace, uncalled for, natural as air. It is intangible; no one can grasp it or fight against it; it dwells in time—is the same thing as time; if it comes in fits and starts, that is only so as to leave the sufferer more defenseless during the moments that follow, those long moments when one relives the last bout of torture and waits for the next.
Cesare Pavese (1908–50), Italian poet, novelist, translator. The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935–1950, 1952; tr. 1961), entry for 30 Oct. 1940.
Science is the only truth and it is the great lie. It knows nothing, and people think it knows everything. It is misrepresented. People think that science is electricity, automobilism, and dirigible balloons. It is something very different. It is life devouring itself. It is the sensibility transformed into intelligence. It is the need to know stifling the need to live. It is the genius of knowledge vivisecting the vital genius.
Rémy de Gourmont (1858–1915), French critic, novelist. “Art and Science,” in Promenades Philosophiques (1905–9; repr. in Selected Writings, ed./tr. by Glen S. Burne, 1966).
However great a man’s fear of life, suicide remains the courageous act, the clear-headed act of a mathematician. The suicide has judged by the laws of chance—so many odds against one that to live will be more miserable than to die. His sense of mathematics is greater than his sense of survival. But think how a sense of survival must clamour to be heard at the last moment, what excuses it must present of a totally unscientific nature.
Graham Greene (1904–91), British novelist. Dr. Magiot, in The Comedians, pt. 1, ch. 4, sct. 1 (1966).
A little weeping, a little wheedling, a little self-degradation, a little careful use of our advantages, and then some man will say—“.Come, be my wife!” With good looks and youth marriage is easy to attain. There are men enough; but a woman who has sold herself, even for a ring and a new name, need hold her skirt aside for no creature in the street. They both earn their bread in one way.
Olive Schreiner (1855–1920), South African writer, feminist. Lyndall, in The Story of an African Farm, pt. 2, ch. 4 (1883).
Women are natural guerrillas. Scheming, we nestle into the enemy’s bed, avoiding open warfare, watching the options, playing the odds.
Sally Kempton (b. 1943), U.S. author. “Cutting Loose,” in Esquire (New York, July 1970).
You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all, just as an intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.
Luis Buñel (1900–1983), Spanish filmmaker. My Last Sigh, ch. 1 (1983).
How delightful are the pleasures of the imagination! In those delectable moments, the whole world is ours; not a single creature resists us, we devastate the world, we repopulate it with new objects which, in turn, we immolate. The means to every crime is ours, and we employ them all, we multiply the horror a hundredfold.
Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), French author. Belmor, in L’Histoire de Juliette, ou les Prospérités du Vice, pt. 3 (1797).
I know we’re not saints or virgins or lunatics; we know all the lust and lavatory jokes, and most of the dirty people; we can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t.
Dylan Thomas (1914–53), Welsh poet. Letter, 1936, to Caitlin, later his wife (published in The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas, 1985).
I am to be broken. I am to be derided all my life. I am to be cast up and down among these men and women, with their twitching faces, with their lying tongues, like a cork on a rough sea. Like a ribbon of weed I am flung far every time the door opens.
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), British novelist. The Waves (1931, p. 77).
Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.
Graham Greene (1904–91), British novelist. The Quiet American, pt. 1, ch. 3, sct. 3 (1955). Later in the book (pt. 3, ch. 2, sct. 1), the narrator describes Pyle—”the quiet American” of the title, a fumbling idealist in cold-war Vietnam—in similar terms: “What’s the good? He’ll always be innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.”
Weep not for little Leonie,
Harry Graham (1874–1936), British author, rhymster. Compensation.
A Woman is home caring for her children! even if she can’t. Trapped in this well-built trap, A Woman blames her mother for luring her into it, while ensuring that her own daughter never gets out; she recoils from the idea of sisterhood and doesn’t believe women have friends, because it probably means something unnatural, and anyhow, A Woman is afraid of women. She’s a male construct, and she’s afraid women will deconstruct her. She’s afraid of everything, because she can’t change. Thighs forever thin and shining hair and shining teeth and she’s my Mom, too, all seven percent of her. And she never grows old.
Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929), U.S. author. Bryn Mawr Commencement Address, 1986 (published in Dancing at the Edge of the World, 1989).
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Hebrew Bible. Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Anyone who hasn’t experienced the ecstasy of betrayal knows nothing about ecstasy at all.
Jean Genet (1910-86), French playwright, novelist. Prisoner of Love, pt. 1 (1986; tr. 1989).
The city is loveliest when the sweet death racket begins. Her own life lived in defiance of nature, her electricity, her frigidaires, her soundproof walls, the glint of lacquered nails, the plumes that wave across the corrugated sky. Here in the coffin depths grow the everlasting flowers sent by telegraph.
Henry Miller (1891–1980), U.S. author. Black Spring, “Megalopolitan Maniac” (1936).
Men know they are sexual exiles. They wander the earth seeking satisfaction, craving and despising, never content. There is nothing in that anguished motion for women to envy.
Camille Paglia (b. 1947), U.S. author, critic, educator. Sexual Personae, ch. 1 (1990).
All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.
Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977), British comic actor, filmmaker. My Autobiography, ch. 10 (1964).
There is immunity in reading, immunity in formal society, in office routine, in the company of old friends and in the giving of officious help to strangers, but there is no sanctuary in one bed from the memory of another. The past with its anguish will break through every defence-line of custom and habit; we must sleep and therefore we must dream.
Cyril Connolly (1903–74), British critic. The Unquiet Grave, pt. 1 (1944; rev. 1951).
Footfalls echo in
T. S. Eliot (1888–1965), Anglo-American poet, critic. Burnt Norton, pt. 1, in Four Quartets.
Through our sunless lanes creeps Poverty with her hungry eyes, and Sin with his sodden face follows close behind her. Misery wakes us in the morning and Shame sits with us at night.
Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), Anglo-Irish playwright, author. The weaver, in “The Young King,” in A House of Pomegranates (1891).
People who have realized that this is a dream imagine that it is easy to wake up, and are angry with those who continue sleeping, not considering that the whole world that environs them does not permit them to wake. Life proceeds as a series of optical illusions, artificial needs and imaginary sensations.
Alexander Herzen (1812–70), Russian journalist, political thinker. My Past and Thoughts, vol. 3, pt. 6, “England.”
I was like a social worker for lepers. My clients had a chunk of their body they wanted to give away; for a price I was there to receive it. Crimes, sins, nightmares, hunks of hair: it was surprising how many of them has something to dispose of. The more I charged, the easier it was for them to breathe freely once more.
Tama Janowitz (b. 1957), U.S. author. Slaves of New York, “Modern Saint 271” (1986).
People react to fear, not love—they don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.
Richard M. Nixon (1913–94), U.S. Republican politician, president. Quoted in: William Safire, Before The Fall, Prologue (1975).
The act of sex, gratifying as it may be, is God’s joke on humanity. It is man’s last desperate stand at superintendency.
Bette Davis (1908–89), U.S. screen actor. The Lonely Life, ch. 20 (1962).
For once you must
try not to shirk the facts:
Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956), German dramatist, poet. The Threepenny Opera, act 2, sc. 6, “What Keeps Mankind Alive?”
I am a dreamer of words, of written words. I think I am reading; a word stops me. I leave the page. The syllables of the word begin to move around. Stressed accents begin to invert. The word abandons its meaning like an overload which is too heavy and prevents dreaming. Then words take on other meanings as if they had the right to be young. And the words wander away, looking in the nooks and crannies of vocabulary for new company, bad company.
Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962), French scientist, philosopher, literary theorist. The Poetics of Reverie, “Introduction,” sct. 6 (1960; tr. 1969).
The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.
Mark Twain (1835–1910), U.S. author. Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 8, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar” (1894).
For me, it is as though at every moment the actual world had completely lost its actuality. As though there was nothing there; as though there were no foundations for anything or as though it escaped us. Only one thing, however, is vividly present: the constant tearing of the veil of appearances; the constant destruction of everything in construction. Nothing holds together, everything falls apart.
Eugène Ionesco (1912–94), Rumanian-born French playwright. Notes and Counter-Notes, pt. 2, “Brief Notes for Radio” (1962).
Those who actually set out to see the fall of a city … or those who choose to go to a front line, are obviously asking themselves to what extent they are cowards. But the tests they set themselves—there is a dead body, can you bear to look at it?—are nothing in comparison with the tests that are sprung on them. It is not the obvious tests that matter (do you go to pieces in a mortar attack?) but the unexpected ones (here is a man on the run, seeking your help—can you face him honestly?).
James Fenton (b. 1949), British poet, critic. “The Fall of Saigon,” in Granta, no. 15 (Cambridge, England, 1985; repr. in All the Wrong Places, 1988).
What right have I to grieve, who have not ceased to wonder?
Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist. Letter, 2 March 1842, to Lucy Brown, sister-in-law of Ralph Waldo Emerson, following death first of Thoreau’s brother, then Emerson’s son (published in The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 1958).
Do not ask the name of the person who seeks a bed for the night. He who is reluctant to give his name is the one who most needs shelter.
Victor Hugo (1802–85), French poet, dramatist, novelist. Bienvenu Myriel, the bishop of Digne, in Les Misérables, pt. 1, bk. 1, ch. 6 (1862).
The only miracle we can perform is to go on living...to preserve the fragility of life from day to day, as if it were blind and did not know where to go, and perhaps it is like that, perhaps it realy does not know, it placed itself in our hands, after giving us intelligence, and this is what we have made of it.
José Saramago (922-2010), Portuguese novelist, Blindness, 1995.
It is restful, tragedy, because one knows that there is no more lousy hope left. You know you’re caught, caught at last like a rat with all the world on its back. And the only thing left to do is shout—not moan, or complain, but yell out at the top of your voice whatever it was you had to say. What you’ve never said before. What perhaps you don’t even know till now.
Jean Anouilh (1910–87), French playwright. The Chorus, in Antigone.
One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), U.S. author. Tender is the Night, bk. 2, ch. 11 (1934).
Generosity is a part of my character, and I therefore hasten to assure this Government that I will never make an allegation of dishonesty against it wherever a simple explanation of stupidity will suffice.
Leslie Lever (Baron)(1905–77), British solicitor, Labour politician. Speech, to House of Commons, London. Quoted in: Leon Harris, The Fine Art of Political Wit, ch. 12 (1964).
The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.
Desmond Morris (b. 1928), British anthropologist. The Human Zoo, Introduction (1969).
La sottise, l'erreur, le
péché, la lésine,
Nos péchés sont têtus,
nos repentirs sont lâches;
Ainsi qu'un débauché
pauvre qui baise et mange
Serré, fourmillant, comme
un million d'helminthes,
Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), "Au Lecteur," Fleurs du Mal, 1963
Seven to eleven is a huge chunk of life, full of dulling and forgetting. It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse. As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder.
Leonard Cohen (b. 1934), Canadian singer, poet, novelist. The Favourite Game, bk. 1, ch. 17 (1963).
A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), Austrian philosopher. Culture and Value (ed. by G. H. von Wright and Heikki Nyman, 1980), 1942 entry.
A prisoner has no sex. He is God’s own private eunuch.
Henry Miller (1891–1980), U.S. author. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, “The Soul of Anaesthesia” (1945
A Roman divorced from his wife, being highly blamed by his friends, who demanded, “Was she not chaste? Was she not fair? Was she not fruitful?” holding out his shoe, asked them whether it was not new and well made. “Yet,” added he, “none of you can tell where it pinches me.
Plutarch (c. 46–120 A.D.), Greek essayist, biographer. Parallel Lives: Aemilius Paulus, sct. 5.
Israel, and you who call yourself Israel, the Church that calls itself Israel, and the revolt that calls itself Israel, and every nation chosen to be a nation—none of these lands is yours, all of you are thieves of holiness, all of you at war with Mercy.
Leonard Cohen (b. 1934), Canadian singer, poet, novelist. Book of Mercy, sct. 27 (1984).
In the NUDE, all that is not beautiful is obscene.
Robert Bresson (b. 1907), French film director. Notes on the Cinematographer, “Further Notes 1960–1974” (1975).
An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger…. Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.
James Baldwin (1924–87), U.S. author. The Price of The Ticket, sct. 2, “The Devil Finds Work” (1985; first published 1976).
All social rules and all relations between individuals are eroded by a cash economy, avarice drags Pluto himself out of the bowels of the earth.
Karl Marx (1818–83), German political theorist, social philosopher. Capital, vol. 1, ch. 3 (1867).
A man’s death makes everything certain about him. Of course, secrets may die with him. And of course, a hundred years later somebody looking through some papers may discover a fact which throws a totally different light on his life and of which all the people who attended his funeral were ignorant. Death changes the facts qualitatively but not quantitatively. One does not know more facts about a man because he is dead. But what one already knows hardens and becomes definite. We cannot hope for ambiguities to be clarified, we cannot hope for further change, we cannot hope for more. We are now the protagonists and we have to make up our minds.
John Berger (b. 1926), British author, critic. A Fortunate Man (1967; repr. 1976, p. 160).
I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn’t pleasure I was after, it was knowledge. I consulted the strictest moralists to learn how to appear, philosophers to find out what to think and novelists to see what I could get away with. And, in the end, I distilled everything down to one wonderfully simple principle: win or die.
Christopher Hampton (b. 1946), British playwright. Merteuil, in Dangerous Liaisons (screenplay, 1989).
I have seen a thousand graves opened, and always perceived that whatever was gone, the teeth and hair remained of those who had died with them. Is not this odd? They go the very first things in youth & yet last the longest in the dust.
Lord Byron (1788–1824), English poet. Letter, 18 Nov. 1820, to publisher John Murray (published in Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 7, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 1973–81).
I can live without it all—
Erica Jong (b. 1942), U.S. author. “Becoming a Nun,” in About Women (ed. by Stephen Berg and S. J. Marks, 1973).
Contact with men who wield power and authority still leaves an intangible sense of repulsion. It’s very like being in close proximity to faecal matter, the faecal embodiment of something unmentionable, and you wonder what it is made of and when it acquired its historically sacred character.
Jean Baudrillard (b. 1929), French semiologist. Cool Memories, ch. 3 (1987; tr. 1990).
Helpless, unknown, and unremembered, most human beings, however sensitive, idealistic, intelligent, go through life as passengers rather than chauffeurs. Although we may pretend that it is the chauffeur who is the social inferior … most of us, like Toad of Toad Hall, would not mind a turn at the wheel ourselves.
Ralph Harper (b. 1915), U.S. cleric, author. The World of the Thriller, pt. 3, “Outside the Law” (1969).
The whole earth, perpetually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.
Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821), French diplomat, philosopher. The Senator, in Les Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg, “Seventh Dialogue” (1821; repr. in The Works of Joseph de Maistre, ed. by Jack Lively, 1965).
To try to write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive … and impoverished.
Roland Barthes (1915–80), French semiologist. A Lover’s Discourse, “Inexpressible Love” (1977; tr. 1979).
The idea that nations should love one another, or that business concerns or marketing boards should love one another, or that a man in Portugal should love a man in Peru of whom he has never heard—it is absurd, unreal, dangerous…. The fact is we can only love what we know personally. And we cannot know much.
E. M. Forster (1879–1970), British novelist, essayist. Two Cheers for Democracy, “Tolerance” (1951; first published 1941).
Comedy deflates the sense precisely so that the underlying lubricity and malice may bubble to the surface.
Paul Goodman (1911–72), U.S. literary critic, author. “Obsessed by Theatre,” in Nation (New York, 29 Nov. 1958; repr. in Creator Spirit Come, 1977).
If we didn’t live venturously, plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices, we should never be depressed, I’ve no doubt; but already should be faded, fatalistic and aged.
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), British novelist. A Writer’s Diary (ed. by Leonard Woolf, 1954), entry for 26 May 1924.
The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher. Human, All Too Human, aph. 332 (1878).
It is not funny that anything else should fall down; only that a man should fall down…. Why do we laugh? Because it is a gravely religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), British author. All Things Considered, "Spiritualism" (1908)
Take motherhood: nobody ever thought of putting it on a moral pedestal until some brash feminists pointed out, about a century ago, that the pay is lousy and the career ladder nonexistent.
Barbara Ehrenreich (b. 1941), U.S. author, columnist. The Worst Years of Our Lives, “Premature Pragmatism” (1991; first published in Ms., New York, 1986).
We only seem to learn from Life that Life doesn’t matter so much as it seemed to do—it’s not so burningly important, after all, what happens. We crawl, like blinking sea-creatures, out of the Ocean onto a spur of rock, we creep over the promontory bewildered and dazzled and hurting ourselves, then we drop in the ocean on the other side: and the little transit doesn’t matter so much.
D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930), British author. Letter, 13 Jan. 1911 (published in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, vol. 1, ed. by James T. Boulton, 1979).
Artists use frauds to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking much more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on. Actually, practically nothing is going on.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (b. 1922), U.S. novelist. Wampeters, Foma and Granfallons, “When I Was Twenty-One” (1974).
As flies to wanton boys, are we to th’ gods;
They kill us for their sport.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616), English dramatist, poet. Gloucester, in King Lear, act 4, sc. 1.
I have been photographing our toilet, that glossy enameled receptacle of extraordinary beauty…. Here was every sensuous curve of the “human figure divine” but minus the imperfections. Never did the Greeks reach a more significant consummation to their culture, and it somehow reminded me, in the glory of its chaste convulsions and in its swelling, sweeping, forward movement of finely progressing contours, of the Victory of Samothrace.
Edward Weston (1886–1958), U.S. photographer. The Daybooks of Edward Weston, vol. 1, pt. 4, ch. 1 (ed. by Nancy Newhall, 1925), entry for 21 Oct. 1925.
Construed … as turf, home just seems a provisional claim, a designation you make upon a place, not one it makes on you. A certain set of buildings, a glimpsed, smudged window-view across a schoolyard, a musty aroma sniffed behind a garage when you were a child, all of which come crowding in upon your latter-day senses—those are pungent things and vivid, even consoling. But to me they are also inert and nostalgic and unlikely to connect you to the real, to that essence art can sometimes achieve, which is permanence.
Richard Ford (b. 1944), U.S. author. “An Urge for Going” in Harper’s (New York, Feb. 1992).
There is no religion in which everyday life is not considered a prison; there is no philosophy or ideology that does not think that we live in alienation.
Eugène Ionesco (1912–94), Rumanian-born French playwright. Present Past—Past Present, ch. 5 (1968).
André Breton (1896-1966), French Poet and Critic. Manifestoes of Surrealism (1969).
Lust is to the other passions what the nervous fluid is to life; it supports them all, lends strength to them all … ambition, cruelty, avarice, revenge, are all founded on lust.
Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), French author. Juliette, in L’Histoire de Juliette, ou les Prospérités du Vice, pt. 2 (1797).
A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinaesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status—all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing).
J. G. Ballard (b. 1930), British author. Interview in Penthouse (London, 1970; repr. in Re/Search, no. 8/9, San Francisco, 1984).
If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), British author, poet. "Common Form," The Years Between (1919).
It is not enough for us to prostrate ourselves under the tree which is Creation, and to contemplate its tremendous branches filled with stars. We have a duty to perform, to work upon the human soul, to defend the mystery against the miracle, to worship the incomprehensible while rejecting the absurd; to accept, in the inexplicable, only what is necessary; to dispel the superstitions that surround religion—to rid God of His Maggots.
Victor Hugo (1802–85), French poet, dramatist, novelist. Les Misérables, pt. 2, bk. 7, ch. 5 (1862).
Sometimes, because of its immediacy, television produces a kind of electronic parable. Berlin, for instance, on the day the Wall was opened. Rostropovich was playing his cello by the Wall that no longer cast a shadow, and a million East Berliners were thronging to the West to shop with an allowance given them by West German banks! At that moment the whole world saw how materialism had lost its awesome historic power and become a shopping list.
John Berger (b. 1926), British author, critic. “The Soul and the Operator,” in Expressen (Stockholm, 19 March 1990; repr. in Keeping a Rendezvous, 1992).
Absolute virtue is impossible and the republic of forgiveness leads, with implacable logic, to the republic of the guillotine.
Albert Camus (1913–60), French-Algerian philosopher, author. The Rebel, pt. 3, “The Regicides” (1951; tr. 1953).
In marriage there are no manners to keep up, and beneath the wildest accusations no real criticism. Each is familiar with that ancient child in the other who may erupt again…. We are not ridiculous to ourselves. We are ageless. That is the luxury of the wedding ring.
Enid Bagnold (1889–1981), British novelist, playwright. Autobiography, ch. 6 (1969).
In the twentieth century, death terrifies men less than the absence of real life. All these dead, mechanized, specialized actions, stealing a little bit of life a thousand times a day until the mind and body are exhausted, until that death which is not the end of life but the final saturation with absence.
Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934), Belgian Situationist philosopher. The Revolution of Everyday Life, ch. 4, sct. 2 (1967; tr. 1983).