Quotes From My Reading: By Author

William Alexander, from The $64 Tomato

(My review of this Book)

the [real estate agent] trying to sell our current house had [warned] us: "Don't fall in love with a house before you own it. You will either be heartbroken or pay too much."

Eventually I would realize that by constantly removing easy-to-trap groundhogs, I had created my own little Darwinian universe. Each time I got rid of another dumb, easily trapped one, a replacement soon moved in. But a smart, wily one would avoid the trap and find a way into my garden. In other words, the groundhogs I trapped and removed were precisely the ones I should have been keeping under the barn. They were the ideal tenants!


Laurie Anderson, from The Dream Before from the album Strange Angels

She said: What is History?
And he said: History is an angel
Being blown backwards into the future
He said: History is a pile of debris
And the angel wants to go back and fix things
To repair the things that have been broken
But there is a storm blowing from paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel
Backwards into the future.
And this storm, this storm
Is called


Hannah Arendt, from Responsibility and Judgment

Arendt did not believe that analogies derived retrospectively from what had or had not worked in the past would avert the pitfalls of the present situation. As she saw it, the spontaneity of political action is yoked to the contingency of its specific conditions, which renders such analogies unavailing. ... Arendt did not mean that the past as such was irrelevant --- she never tired of repeating William Faulkner's epigram "The past is never dead, it's not even past" --- but that applying "so-called lessons of history" to indicate what the future holds in store is only slightly more useful than examining entrails or reading tea leaves.
.............................. from the Introduction, by Jerome Kohn, (viii)

Arendt was close indeed to Machiavelli: when moral and religious commandments are pronounced in public in defiance of the diversity of human opinions they corrupt both the world and themselves.
.............................. from the Introduction, by Jerome Kohn, (xxi)

Because thinking cannot be guided by evil, since evil destroys what exists, [Arendt] came to believe that the activity of thinking conditions whoever engages in it against evil-doing.
.............................. from the Introduction, by Jerome Kohn, (xxv)

... what influenced me when I came to the United States was precisely the freedom of becoming a citizen without having to pay the price of assimilation.

... while ... the question of personal responsibility under dictatorship cannot permit the shifting of responsibility from man to system, the system cannot be left out of account altogether. It appears in the form of circumstances, from the legal as well as the moral point of view, much in the same sense in which we take into account the conditions of underprivileged persons as mitigating circumstances, but not as excuses, in the case of crimes committed in the milieu of poverty.

[Non-participants during the Nazi period in Germany] asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command "Thou shalt not kill," but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer --- themselves.

… no one in his right mind can any longer claim that moral conduct is a matter of course …. [But] every sane man … [carries] within himself a voice that tells him what is right and what is wrong …. Hence moral conduct is not a matter of course, but moral knowledge, the knowledge of right and wrong, is.

If [a person] is a thinking being, rooted in his thoughts and remembrances, and hence knowing that he has to live with himself, there will be limits to what he can permit himself to do, and these limits will not be imposed on him from the outside, but will be self-set. … limitless, extreme evil is possible only where these self-grown roots, which automatically limit the possibilities, are entirely absent. They are absent where men skid only over the surface of events, where they permit themselves to be carried away without ever penetrating into whatever depth they may be capable of.

… the cry "We are all guilty" that at first hearing sound[s] so very noble and tempting … only serve[s] to exculpate to a considerable degree those who actually [are] guilty. Where all are guilty, nobody is. Guilt, unlike responsibility, always singles out; it is strictly personal. It refers to an act, not to intentions or potentialities.

Hannah Arendt, from Crises of the Republic

Reason's aversion to contingency is very strong .... Indeed, much of the modern arsenal of political theory ... [for example] the careful enumeration of, usually, three "options" --- A, B, C --- whereby A and C represent the opposite extremes and B the "logical" middle-of-the-road "solution" of the problem --- has its source in this deep-seated aversion. The fallacy of such thinking begins with forcing the choices into mutually exclusive dilemmas; reality never presents us with anything so neat as premises for logical conclusions. The kind of thinking that presents both A and C as undesirable, therefore settles on B, hardly ever serves any other purpose than to divert the mind and blunt the judgment for the multitude of real possibilities. What these problem-solvers have in common with down-to-earth liars is the attempt to get rid of facts and the confidence that this should be possible because of the inherent contingency of facts. (12)


From For a Little While, by Rick Bass

(My review of this Book)

But other nights the storms would wash through quickly, windy drenching downpours that soaked us, and it was fun to sit on the rocks and let the storm hit us and beat against us. The nights were always warm, though cooler after those rains, and the smells were so sharp as to make us imagine that something new was out there, something happening that had never happened to anyone before. (31)

The fall was coming, and winter beyond that. The animals knew it first. Nothing could prevent its coming, or even slow its approach: nothing they could do would matter. (73)

There is a perfect balance, a drawn and poised moment’s tension to everything. Is it peculiarly human, and perhaps wrong, to try to hang back --- to try to shore up, pause, build a fortress against the inevitable snapping or release of that tension? Of trying to not allow the equation to roll forward, like riffle-water over, past, and around the river’s boulders? (204)

There is romantic nonsense these days about the beauty of death, about the terrible end becoming the lovely beginning, and I think that’s wrong, a diminution of the beauty of life. Death is as terrible as birth is wonderful. The laws of physics and nature --- not romance --- dictate this. (206)

[She] read a quote from Jeremiah: “And I brought you into the plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof: but when ye entered, ye defiled my land and made mine heritage an abomination. (227)

Around them the dense aura of all the other itchy, troubled, angst-bound teenagers, wanting sex, wanting power, wanting God, wanting salvation --- wanting home and hearth, and yet also wanting the open road. (233)

… the path, the wandering line, that brought her to her father in the first place, delivered her to him and made him hers and she his --- the improbability and yet the certainty that would place the two of them in each other’s lives, tiny against the backdrop of the world, and tinier still against the mountains of time. But belonging to each other, as much in death as in life. Inescapably, and forever. (284)

… the only real ruin lies in our inability to fully engage, in every incandescent moment, in the brief long shot of having been chosen for the human experience. (375)


From Jakob der Lügner (Jakob the Liar), by Jurek Becker

(My review of this Book)

... die Kisten kommen Jakob eine Kleinigkeit leichter vor, seit ihn Kowalski und die anderen nicht mehr mit Fragen überschütten, Kowalski vermutlich schwerer, seit die Antworten fehlen, das Gewicht ist, wie man sieht, keine absolute Größe.
(...the crates seemed to be to Jakob a little bit lighter, since Kowalski and the others were no longer inundating him with questions, to Kowalski probably a little heavier, since the answers were missing; weight is, as one can see, not an absolute quantity.)


Claire-Louise Bennett, from Pond

(My review of this Book)

I have never had too much difficulty foreseeing impending setbacks and I have quite often identified the steps by which an oncoming obstacle might be avoided, yet it is a very rare occasion indeed when I’ve channeled any of the awareness into direct action and thereby altered the course of events so that they might progress more favorably. (93)

If you are not from a particular place the history of that particular place will dwell inside you differently to how it dwells within those people who are from that particular place. Your connection to certain events that define the history of a particular place is not straightforward because none of your ancestors were in any way involved in or affected by these events. You have no stories to relate and compare, you have no narrative to inherit and run with, and all the names are strange ones that mean nothing to you at all. And it’s as if the history of a particular place knows all about this blankness you contain. Consequently if you are not from a particular place you will always be vulnerable for the reason that it doesn’t matter how many years you have lived there you will never have a side of the story; nothing with which you can hold the full force of the history of a particular place a at bay. (104)


Wendell Berry, from Our Only World

(My review of this book)

… the industries of landscapes: agriculture, forestry, and mining. Once they have been industrialized, these enterprises no longer recognize landscapes as wholes, let alone as the homes of people and other creatures. They regard landscapes as sources of extractable products. They have “efficiently” shed any other interest or concern. (6)

In making any choice, we choose for the future, and so all our choices involve us in mystery and in a kind of tragedy. … To reduce this complexity and mystery to a public contest between two absolutes seems wrong to everything involved. Some equivocation seems natural and appropriate because one is attending to two possibilities, both unknown. … Choices do no invariably cut cleanly between good and evil. Sometimes we poor humans must choose between two competing goods, sometimes between two evils. Responsibility or circumstances will require us to choose. But we cannot choose to be unbewildered or not to grieve.

The theologian William E. Hull, worrying over the destructive animosities that divide religious organizations, asked, “How can we avoid the wrangling that breeds hostility?” And he answered: “By seeking clarity rather than victory” (Beyond the Barriers, p. 169).  (80)


From Phantoms on the Bookshelves, by Jacques Bonnet

(My review of this Book)
...it starts with the itch to read and a wide-ranging curiosity, which does not necessarily imply book collecting, since they could always consult works in libraries, or borrow them, or sell them again after buying them. But the reading bibliomaniac wants to hold on to the physical object, to keep it ready at hand.

...that magical moment when one learns to read, and the infinite horizon that opens up when you decipher something written down. I spent my childhood reading everything that came to hand --- books, yes, but also posters, advertisements, notices, newspaper cuttings, and during meals I would read cereal packets or bottle labels.

The fanatical reader is not only anxious, he or she is curious.... And curiosity has no end; it is without limits. It feeds on itself, is never satisfied with what it finds, but must always press on, exhausting itself only with our dying breath.

[A bibliomaniac's library] is undeniably the reflection, the twin image of its master. To anyone with the insight to decode it, the fundamental character of the librarian will emerge as one's eye travels along the bookshelves.

Oddly enough, the infinite source of information which the internet provides does not have for me the same magical status as my library. Here I am in front of my computer, I can look up anything I want, jumping even further in time and space than through my books, but there's something missing; that touch of the divine.


Charles Bowden
interviewed about his book Dreamland: The Way out of Juarez
on the program 'On The Media', 4 June 2010

My dream, is to invite a reader into a room and pour a nice cup a tea and then nail the damn door shut. I want'em to look at a 40 year war of drugs that has created a police state in the United States, the largest prison population per capita on earth, and slaughtered tens of thousands of Mexicans. I want'em to taste it, not just read some policy statement. And that's why it's disturbing, because I want people to be disturbed; it seems to me it's the only way things are ever going to change.


From San Camilo, 1936, by Camilo José Cela

(My review of this Book)
No one knows whether it is better to remember or to forget, memory is often sad and forgetting on the other hand usually repairs and heals...

...cities don't run away, they burn, they rot, they fall apart, but they don't run away, cities can't run away, if they could they would have done it long ago.

...seen from close up history confuses everyone, both actors and spectators, and is always very tiny and startling, and also very hard to interpret.

...we Spaniards are very nervous and stubborn and always want to be in the right even when we are in the wrong, and if we're in the wrong so much the worse...

...a revolution [in Spain] always ends up as slaughter, they kill priests, they kill Andalusian peasants or they kill schoolteachers, it depends on who's doing the killing, but finally nothing is revolutionized, everything stays the same only with more people dead...

Politics is not the science of pounding your enemy like a clove of garlic in a mortar and then handing him out to dry in the sun, but the art of soothing the nerves of all, friends and enemies, so that life can go on without too many afflictions and with no more ailments than necessary...

...inertia has too strong a grip on us, habit too, inertia and habit are almost the same thing, you couldn't distinguish between them, and they are full to overflowing with menaces that fall on those who break with them.

...if cities could flee not one city would be left in the world, but cities cannot flee...

...the reason the world gets no better is that people like to parade with their insignias and their little flags ... the trouble is that people like parades and hubbub, the only thing they change is the insignias and little flags, you can tell that that gives them more strength or at least so they think....

...lust does not have a happy face because it is the consequence of solitude and sadness...

...honor shines with such a showy and violent gleam that it blinds those whom it invades...

...the people are asking for weapons, once they have them they will ask for targets...

...the belly is a treacherous and fragile organ, a tool that spends a lifetime making demands and causing annoyance, the belly is an organ incapable of love or gratitude.

...a fight can be won but can also be lost, the outcome of a fight except at the circus ... is always in doubt like the heads or tails of the flip of a coin, at first everybody thinks he's going to win and what happens afterwards is that everybody loses, the winners and the losers, some more, some less, but they all lose, their faith, their hope, their charity, their freedom, their decency, their dreams, their life...

...the trouble with questions of principle is that they become distorted when you try to apply them, their edges and outlines blur...

...I also have charity toward Spain although it doesn't always deserve it, in spite of everything it's necessary to be a patriot, notice, my boy, that I didn't say nationalist, la patria, the fatherland, is more permanent than the nation, also more natural and flexible, fatherlands were invented by the Creator, nations are made by men, fatherlands have a voice with which to sing and trees and rivers, nations have a voice in order to promulgate decrees and they also have institutions with which to shackle man and machine guns for defending the institutions...

...death is not a possibility, it is a certainty that can be hastened but it's not a possibility, life on the other hand is a possibility, only a possibility and not a certainty, life is possible but never certain, it can be strangled at any moment...

...it's too easy a crime to freeze the hearts and heads of twenty-year old boys, all you have to do is forbid them all that might be enjoyable in life, all you have to do is empty their heads or blow the full of messianic ideas, that's the same thing...

...you twenty-year-old boys ... everything weighs too heavily on you, life, your head, and your heart weigh heavily on you, you are not yet skilled in the arts of resistance of the flesh and the spirit and you see death as what it is not, a liberation...

...refuse to live the life of others, my boy, refuse to die the death of others and do not throw fuel on the destructive pyre of others or blow on its embers...

...love is never a tyrant and is always a companion for our uncertain voyage through life...

...the stupidity of the forces of conservatism is only comparable to the stupidity of the forces of revolution, which are also forces in the service of reaction though with the opposite sign, the forces of revolution do not fight against the flags the hymns and the medals but in defense of other flags other hymns and other medals...


J. M. Coetzee, from Disgrace

(My review of this Book)
Yet the old men whose company he seems to be on the point of joining, the tramps and drifters with their stained raincoats and cracked false teeth and hairy earholes --- all of them were once upon a time children of God, with straight limbs and clear eyes. Can they be blamed for clinging to the last to their place at the sweet banquet of the senses?

How brief the summer, before the autumn and then the winter!


From The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy

(My review of this Book)
The sweetness of Southern Women often conceals the secret deadliness of snakes. It has helped them survive the impervious tyranny of Southern men more comfortable with a myth than a flesh-and-blood woman.
.............................. Will McLean

Evil would always come to me disguised in systems and dignified by law.
.............................. Will McLean

It was part of my blazing egomania that I felt personally responsible for all the injustices of the Institute. Later, I would feel the same sort of impotent outrage when I studied the monstrous injustices of the world toward its meekest and most helpless citizens. I was young then, and my youth permitted me to believe that I could change the world if I could devise a cunning enough strategy.
.............................. Will McLean

I had my own system of justice that sprang from the center of me. I felt I had a power --- or a weakness, I could not be sure --- given to very few human beings. I could put myself in the place of others and ask myself how I would feel if I were in their place.
.............................. Will McLean


Miguel Delibes, from The Heretic

(My review of this Book)
There in the tavern Bernardo abandoned his social norms and hypocrisy: He cursed, used obscene language, and laughed at dirty jokes. Excesses like that brightened his mood and enabled him to face the afternoon tasks in town in better spirits.

[He] drank without pause. He'd reached that point where we forget the weight of our own body and feel ourselves floating.


Don DeLillo, from The Angel Esmeralda

(My review of this Book)
If you know you're worth nothing, only a gamble with death can gratify your vanity.
.............................. From the title story

"[Standing on the highway overpass] I watched and listened, unaware of passing time, thinking of the order and discipline of the traffic, taken for granted, drivers maintaining a distance, fallible men and women, cars ahead, behind, to the sides, night driving, thoughts drifting. Why weren't there accidents every few seconds on this one stretch of highway, even before morning rush? ... the surging noise and sheer speed, the proximity of vehicles, the fundamental differences among drivers, sex, age, language, temperament, personal history … it seemed a wonder to me that they moved safely toward the mystery of their destinations."
.............................. From the story Hammer and Sickle


Annie Dillard, from For the Time Being

Why are we watching the news, reading the news keeping up with the news?  Only to enforce our fancy --- possibly a necessary lie --- that these are crucial times, and we are in on them.

On the shore beyond me I saw a man splitting wood. He was a distant figure in silhouette across the water. I heard a wrong ring. He raised his maul and it clanged at the top of its rise. He drove it down. I could see the wood divide and drop in silence. The figure bent, straightened, raised the maul with both arms, and again I heard it ring just as its head knocked the sky. Metal banged metal as a clapper bangs its bell. Then the figure brought down the maul in silence. Absorbed on the ground, skilled and sure, the stick figure was clobbering the heavens.
I saw a beached red dory. I could take the red dory, row out to the guy, and say: Sir.  You have found a place where the sky dips close.  May I borrow your maul?  You maul and your wedge?  Because, I thought, I too could hammer the sky --- crack it at one blow, split it at the next --- and inquire, hollering at God the compassionate, the all-merciful, WHAT'S with the bird-headed dwarfs?

Augustine said to a group of people, "We are talking about God.  What wonder is it that you do not understand?  If you do understand, then it is not God."

"One of the main reasons that it is so easy to march men off to war," says Ernest Becker, is that "each of them feels sorry for the man next to him who will die."

Ernest Becker says ... that " a full apprehension of man's condition would drive him insane."


Tahar Djaout, from The Last Summer of Reason

(My review of this Book)
...he waited for things to return to normal, for the messengers of fanaticism to go back to their dark corners.... How many men like him turned out to be wrong! It was enough for beauty and reason to doze off for a moment, abandoning their defenses, for night to shove day out and pour across the city like a horrifying flood.


Will and Ariel Durant, from The Lessons of History

Probably every vice was once a virtue --- i.e., a quality making for the survival of the individual, the family, or the group. Man’s sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall. (38)

The freedom of the part varies with the security of the whole; individualism will diminish in America and England as geographical protection ceases. (42)

… much of our moral freedom is good: it is pleasant to be relieved of theological terrors, to enjoy without qualm the pleasures that harm neither others nor ourselves, and to feel the tang of the open air upon our liberated flesh. (42)

… Diocletian explained that the barbarians were at the gate, and that individual liberty had to be shelved until collective liberty could be made secure. The socialism of Diocletian was a war economy, made possible by fear of foreign attack. Other factors equal, internal liberty varies inversely as external danger. (61)

It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that “you can’t fool all the people all the time,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country. (78)

In England and the United States, in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, in Switzerland and Canada, democracy is today [1968] sounder than ever before. It has defended itself with courage and energy against the assaults of foreign dictatorship, and has not yielded to dictatorship at home. But if war continues to absorb and dominate it, or if the itch to rule the world requires a large military establishment and appropriation, the freedoms of democracy may one by one succumb to the discipline of arms and strife. If race or class war divides us into hostile camps, changing political argument into blind hate, one side or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword. (79)

… creative individuals with clarity of mind and energy of will (which is almost a definition of genius), capable of effective responses to new situations (which is almost a definition of intelligence) (91)

When the group or a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change. (92)

… are we nearing such moral and social disorder that frightened parents will run back to Mother Church and beg her to discipline their children, at whatever cost to intellectual liberty? (96)

[Ecclesiastes, i, 18]: “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow, and in much wisdom is much grief.” (97)


David Edwards, from Burning All Illusions

...science, when in the service of power, is a source of 'certainty'; the exception being when it addresses inconvenient issues like ozone depletion or global warming. Then, a lack of complete 'scientific certainty' is involved...

[The] mechanism of using ridicule for the suppression of truth and the prevention of meaningful discussion, is ... deeply ingrained in each and every one of us.

Stupidity is the oxygen of power.

Hate can only exist in the absence of understanding; where understanding is present, hate cannot exist. ... Very often hate is the result of a determination not to understand, and this is why hate is so dangerous: it actually resists understanding.


Omar El Akkad, from American War

(My review of this book)

She knew from experience that there existed no soldier as efficient, as coldly unburdened by fear, as a child broken early. (180)


Marian Engel, from Bear (Oso)

(My review of this book)

He was one of those who spend a fortune on books.  This passion annoyed his wife. (62)

Era de los que se gastan una fortuna en libros.  A su esposa le contrariaba esa pasión. (62)


Jill Alexander Essbaum, from Hausfrau

(My review of this book)

... a blank, baffled face that revealed a sadness that existed somewhere beyond the reach of comfort.

[She] lay awake in bed. She had been begging sleep to steal her for three hard hours. It hadn't.


Felipe Fernández-Armesto, from 1492: The Year the World Began

(My review of this Book)
[Shen Zhou] realized that experience is incomplete until transformed, by [our will], into part of oneself.

[Shen Zhou wrote:] "How great is the power of sitting up at night! One should purify one's heart and sit alone, by the light of a newly trimmed, bright candle. Through this practice one can pursue the principles that underlie events and things, and the subtlest workings of one's own mind. ... Through this we shall surely attain understanding.


Penelope Fitzgerald, from The Blue Flower

(My review of this Book)
[the] schnaps which harboured in every coarse, consoling mouthful the memory of the heat of summer.

Patiently [she] listened to everything he had learned and therefore needed to repeat to another intelligence.

When [her son] had been born, sickly and stupid, she had been given the blame, and had accepted it. When after months of low fever he had become tall and thin and, as they all said, a genius, she had not been given any credit, and had not expected any.

"It's in English," said Erasmus. "You can't read English."
"That's true," said Bernhard with a deep sigh. "In those wild forests of words I am lost."

"... you should never lend a book or a woman. There's no obligation to return either."
.............................. Anton

... the few moments during which she had not been able to remember [his name] confirmed [him] in what, after all, he already knew, that he was nothing. What means something to us, that we can name. Sink, he told his hopes, with a kind of satisfaction, sink like a corpse dropped into the river. I am rejected, not for being unwelcome, not even for being ridiculous, but for being nothing.

"... time given to wish for what can't be is not only spent, but wasted, and for all that we waste we shall be accountable."
.............................. Mandelsloh


Richard Fletcher, from Moorish Spain

[On] the Christian as on the Muslim side an image or stereotype was found preferable to the laborious, and perhaps disturbing, investigation of reality.


Eric Foner, from Who Owns History?

(My review of this book)

In the 1880s, sociologist Lester Ward pointed out that economic competition bred not simply individual advancement but giant new corporations whose economic might needed to be held in check by government, and he ridiculed the social Darwinists' "fundamental error" that "the favors of the world are distributed entirely according to merit." (32)

[Richard Hofstadter wrote that] "changes in the structure of social ideas wait on general changes in economic and political life" and that ideas win acceptance based less on "truth and logic" than on their "suitability to the intellectual needs and preconceptions of social interests." This, he adds, was "one of the great difficulties that must be faced by rational strategists of social change." (34)


Susana Fortes, from Waiting for Robert Capa

(My review of this Book)
It was the perfect moment, when the words have yet to mean so much and everything transpires with levity ...

I'll save you.... I can do it. It may cost me and you may not deserve it, but I'm going to save you. There isn't a more powerful sensation that this. Not love, piety or desire.

She enjoyed the distance that he maintained around himself, a space that was necessary in order for each to occupy their place.


Alan Furst, from The Spies of Warsaw

(My review of this Book)
There's a French saying, 'Où le Dieu a vous semé, il faut savoir fleurir.' … wherever God has planted you, you must know how to flower.
.............................. Colonel Mercier, a French Spy

The unease … [of] Sunday night; the weekend teased you with freedom, then the looming Monday morning took it away.

This land … was a painting, but [he] felt his heart touched with melancholy and realized, not for the first time, that beautiful places were hard on lonely people.


Eduardo Galeano, from Memory of Fire: Genesis

[In 1511 the Indian chief] Hatuey ... fled with his people from Haiti in a canoe and took refuge in the caves and mountains of eastern Cuba.
There he pointed to a basketful of gold and said: "This is the god of the Christians. For him they pursue us. For him our fathers and our brothers have died. Let us dance for him. If our dance pleases him, this god will order them not to mistreat us."
They catch him three months later.
They tie him to a stake.
Before lighting the fire that will reduce him to charcoal and ash, the priest promises him glory and eternal rest if he agrees to be baptized. Hatuey asks:
"Are there Christians in that heaven?"
Hatuey chooses hell, and the firewood begins to crackle.

Smallpox, says [Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John] Winthrop, was sent by God to oblige the English colonists to occupy lands depopulated by the disease.

from Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone

(My review of this book)

Maybe we refuse to acknowledge our common origins because racism causes amnesia, or because we find it unbelievable that in those days long past the entire world was our kingdom, an immense map without borders, and our legs were the only passport required.

The Art of Drawing You
In a bed by the Gulf of Corinth, a woman contemplates by firelight the profile of her sleeping lover.
On the wall, his shadow flickers.
The lover, who lies by her side, will leave. At dawn he will leave to war, to death. And his shadow, his traveling companion, will leave with him and with him will die.
It is still dark. The woman takes a coal out of the embers and draws on the wall the outline of his shadow.
Those lines will not leave.
They will not embrace her, and she knows it. But they will not leave.

[God's] ten commandments do not outlaw war. On the contrary, He orders it done. And His is a war without pity for anyone, not even babes:
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (Samuel 15:3)
Daughter of Babel, devastator: Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. (Psalms 137:9)


... one studious fellow [in Bolivia] came to the conclusion that no coup d'état ever occurs in the United States because it has no U.S. Embassy.

The war in Iraq grew out of the need to correct an error made by Geography when she put the West's oil under the East's sand.

World-killing disasters, poor-killing disasters: in Guatemala they say natural disasters are like old cowboy movies, because only the Indians die.


Mavis Gallant, from The Cost of Living: Early and Uncollected Stories

(My review of this Book)
...their daughters [were] in boarding school. Private schools were out of line with the Knight's social beliefs, but in the case of their own children they had judged a private school essential.

It was the most dangerous of ideas, this "only you can save me," but her need to think it was so overwhelming that she wondered if this was what men, in the past, had been trying to say when they had talked to her about love.

Because she thought people always said what they meant and no more than they intended, her replies were disconcerting.... I had often watched her and seen the pattern --- obtuseness followed by visible surprise...

Is is one thing to go away, but it is terrible to be left.

He thought it wrong of [his little girl] to show so plainly she was sick to death of his voice; she ought to have learned a few of the social dishonesties by now.


Poet Nikki Giovanni

interviewed by Krista Tippett on the radio program On Being
17 March 2016
(at 1:02:55, of the unedited version of the interview, available here.)

Giovanni: The third line in the poem [I am working on now] says, you know, “We cannot be unraped.” And I was interested because, you know, we’ve had a lot of, you know, campus rape, and then we found out that some of it isn’t quite, ah, quite accurate. But no matter what it is, we cannot ‘unrape’. And, I’m not sure, I’m having this argument with myself, I don’t know where this is going to go by the way, but I’m not sure that ‘justice’, can come from any of that. Only, only thing that come from that is revenge. And, revenge is a bad idea, I mean the Greeks learned that 800 million years ago.

Tippett: That justice can come from, that justice can come from any of what? Of?

Giovanni: That, that there’s no ju --- if you, right now, came in here and beat the living crap out of me, there is no ‘justice’; there’s no justice, I had the living crap beaten out of me. I can sue you, I can do something to try to satisfy myself, but that’s not going to be --- there’s no justice. Unless I would, tie you up and beat the living crap out of you --- and nobody wants to do that --- that’s what I’m saying. I can get revenge, but I can’t, there’s no justice. And so I’m beginning to wonder, should we change this, this, this dialogue we have. I saw the president the other day, of the United States, saying, you know, to to the the ah community the the, whoever it is that, that’s been blowing up people, you know, ‘we’re going to get you’. That’s, that’s not justice. And, and, I’m sorry to say it like that; I’m not namby-pamby, but we’re going to have to find a way to talk to each other, and I think that, that’s what’s important.


Xiaolu Guo, from A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

(My review of this Book)
Your sadness actually is nothing to do with me. Your stress is not really from me. It is from your … world, because you don't feel satisfied with your life…. And you might think I am an obstacle in your life. You think your sadness caused by our relationship, by love prison. It is not true. Your happiness and your sadness is from the world that you fight with yourself. (152)

[Berlin] is a city with something really heavy and serious in its soul. This is a city which had big wars in the history. And, I feel, this is a city made for mans, and politics, and disciplines. Like Beijing. (172)

"But don't you wish you will be with me in the future?"
You are in silence for three seconds. Three seconds is very long for this question. (254)


Mohsin Hamid, from Exit West

(My review of this book)

One moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does. (4)

[She] too noticed a friction between them. She was uncertain what to do to disarm the cycles of annoyance they seemed to be entering into with one another, since once begun such cycles are difficult to break, in fact the opposite, as if each makes the threshold for irritation next time a bit lower, as is the case with certain allergies. (133)

To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you. (165)

[It] left him unmoored, adrift in a world where one could go anywhere but still find nothing. (187)

We are all migrants through time. (209)


Yuval Noah Harari, from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

(My review of this book)

… an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world. (32)

One of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline [is that] the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another. Those who have only a superficial knowledge of a certain period tend to focus only on the possibility that was eventually realized. (238)


Marlen Haushofer, from Die Wand (The Wall)

(My review of this Book)

Während des langen Rückwegs dachte ich über mein früheres Leben nach und fand es in jeder Hinsicht ungenügend. Ich hatte wenig erreicht von allem, was ich gewollt hatte, und alles, was ich erreicht hatte, hatte ich nicht mehr gewollt. (66)

[During the long walk back, I reflected on my earlier life, and found it unsatisfactory in every sense. I had achieved little from all that I had wanted to, and everything that I had achieved, I had no longer wanted.]

Sehr viele Leute, die ich kenne, schienen ihre Uhr als kleinen Götzen zu betrachten, und ich fand das auch immer vernünftig. Wenn man schon in der Sklaverei lebt, ist es gut, sich an die Vorschriften zu halten und den Herrn nicht zu verstimmen. Ich habe der Zeit, der künstlichen, vom Ticken der Uhren zerhackten Menschenzeit, nicht gerne gedient, und das hat mich oft in Schwierigkeiten gebracht. Ich habe Uhren nie gemocht… (70)

[Very many people that I knew seemed to look upon their watch as a little idol, and I also always found this reasonable. If one is going to live in slavery anyway, it is good to stick to the rules and not annoy the masters. I did not happily serve time --- that human time artificially chopped up by the ticking of clocks --- and that often brought me difficulties. I have never liked watches…]

Um unsere Freiheit ist es sehr traurig bestellt. Wahrscheinlich hat es sie nie anderswo als auf dem Papier gegeben. Von äußerer Freiheit konnte wohl nie die Rede sein, aber ich habe auch nie einen Menschen gekannt, der innerlich frei gewesen wäre. (82)

[Regarding our freedom, things look very unfortunate. Most likely it never existed anywhere except on paper. Of exterior freedom could undoubtedly never even be a discussion, but I have also never known someone who was inwardly free.]

Es hat keinen Sinn, sich gegen die Bilder zu wehren. Sie kommen und gehen, und je mehr ich mich gegen sie wehre, desto grausiger werden sie. (135)

[It doesn’t make sense, to fight the images [in my head]. They come and go, and the more I fight them, the more dreadful they become.]

Auf der Alm war etwas von der Kätle und Weite des Himmels in mich eingesickert und hatte mich unmerklich vom Leben entfernt. Aber das lag schon sehr weit zurück. Während ich zu Tal stieg, drückte nicht nur das Butterfaß schmerzlich auf meine Schultern; alle Sorgen, die ich abgetan hatte, wurden wieder lebendig. Ich war nicht mehr losgelöst von der Erde, sondern mühselig und beladen, wie es einem Menschen zusteht. Und es schien mir gut und richtig, und ich nahm die schwere Last willig auf mich. (238)

[During my time] on the alpine pasture something of the cold and breadth of the sky had infiltrated me and had distanced me imperceptibly from life. But that already lies far behind me. As I descended into the valley, it was not just the butter churn that pressed down painfully onto my shoulders; the worries, which I had shrugged off, came alive again. I was no longer unbound from the earth, but rather laboring and burdened, as it should be for a person. And it seemed good and right to me, and I took on the heavy load willingly.]

Man kann jahrelang in nervöser Hast in der Stadt leben, es ruiniert zwar die Nerven, aber man kann es lange Zeit durchhalten. Doch kein Mensch kann länger als ein paar Monate in nervöser Hast bergsteigen, Erdäpfel einlegen, holz hacken oder mähen. …

Seit ich langsamer geworden bin, ist der Wald um mich erst lebendig geworden. Ich möchte nicht sagen, daß dies die einzige Art zu leben ist, für mich ist sie aber gewiß die angemessene. Und was mußte alles geschehen, ehe ich zu ihr finden konnte. Früher war ich immer irgendwohin unterwegs, immer in großer Eile und erfüllt von einer rasenden Ungeduld, den &uul;berall, wo ich anlangte, mußte ich erst einmal lange warten. Ich hätte ebensogut den ganzen Weg dahinschleichen können. Manchmal erkannte ich meinen Zustand und den Zustand unserer Welt ganz klar, aber ich war nicht fähig, aus diesem unguten Leben auszubrechen. … es wundert mich, daß ich nicht eines Tages vor Überdruß tot umgefallen bin. …

Hier, im Wald, bin ich eigentlich auf dem mir angemessenen Platz. … wie sie mich alle gequält haben mit Dingen, die mir zuwider waren. Ich hatte nur dieses eine kleine Leben, und sie ließen es mich nicht in Frieden leben. Gasrohre, Kraftwerke und Ölleitungen; jetzt, da die Menschen nicht mehr sind, zeigen sie erst ihr wahres jämmerliches Gesicht. Und damals hatte man sie zu Götzen gemacht anstatt zu Gebrauchsgegenständen. (242)

[One can live in the city for many years in a nervous haste; to be sure it ruins the nerves, but one can stand it for a long time. But no one can spend more than a few months in nervous haste climbing mountains, planting potatoes, chopping wood or reaping hay. …

Since I’ve begun moving more slowly, the forest has finally come alive for me. I don’t want to say that this is the only way to live, but it is certainly the most suited to me. And what all had to happen, before I could discover it. Earlier I was always on the way somewhere, always in a big hurry and filled with a tremendous impatience, since everywhere I went, I first had a long wait. I could have just as well crawled the whole way there. Sometimes I recognized my condition, and the condition of our world very clearly, but I wasn’t capable of breaking out of this unhealthy life. … it surprises me, that I didn’t at some point fall over dead from weariness. …

Here, in the forest, I am actually in the appropriate place for me. … How they tormented me with things that were disgusting to me. I had only this one, small life, and they wouldn’t leave me alone to live in peace. Gas ovens, power stations and oil pipelines; now that people aren’t there any more, these things finally reveal their true, pitiful face. And back then they were made into gods instead of basic commodities.]


Friedrich Hayek, from The Road to Serfdom

(My review of this Book)

… true liberalism [in the classical sense of supporting limited government and the primacy of individual liberty] is still distinct from conservatism, and there is a danger in the two being confused. Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place. A conservative movement, by its very nature, if bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege.

It is important not to confuse opposition against [central] planning with a dogmatic laissez faire attitude. The liberal argument is in favor of making the best possible use of the forces of competition as a means of coordinating human effort, not an argument for leaving things just as they are. … It does not deny, but even emphasizes, that, in order that competition should work beneficially, a carefully thought-out legal framework is required and that neither the existing nor the past legal rules are free from grave defects.

The successful use of competition as the principle of social organization precludes certain types of coercive interference with economic life, but it admits of others which sometimes may very considerably assist its work and even requires certain kinds of government action. … Any attempt to control prices or quantities of particular commodities deprives competition of its power … this is not necessarily true, however, of measures merely restricting the allowed methods of production, so long as these restrictions affect all potential producers equally…. Though all such controls of the methods of production impose extra costs … they may be well worth while.

Nor is the preservation of competition incompatible with an extensive system of social services…

In no system that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing. An effective competitive system needs an intelligently designed and continuously adjusted legal framework as much as any other.

The question whether the state should or should not "act" or "interfere" poses an altogether false alternative, and the term "laissez faire" is a highly ambiguous and misleading description of the principles on which a liberal policy [as opposed to a socialist, planning policy] is based.

… there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody …. Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for these common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision.

There is, finally, the supremely important problem of combating general fluctuations of economic activity and the recurrent waves of large-scale unemployment which accompany them … the very necessary efforts to secure protection against these fluctuations do not lead to the kind of planning which constitutes such a threat to our freedom.

That the advances of the past should be threatened by the traditionalist forces of the Right is a phenomenon of all ages which need not alarm us. But if the place of the opposition [Left], in public discussion as well as in [government], should become lastingly the monopoly of a second reactionary party, there would, indeed, be no hope left.

We shall never prevent the abuse of power if we are not prepared to limit power in a way which occasionally may also prevent its use for desirable purposes.

As is true with respect to other great evils, the measures by which war might be made altogether impossible for the future may well be worse than even war itself.

It is obvious that, from this intellectual relativism, which denied the existence of truths which could be recognized independently of race, nation, or class, there was only a step to the position which puts sentiment above rational thinking.


Thor Heyerdahl, from Green Was the Earth on the Seventh Day

Man invents the most inhuman armaments to assault others so like himself that uniforms are needed to distinguish between friend and foe.

This world has seen a great many civilizations.  And many of them have survived for longer periods than ours up to the present.  They were all as sure as we are today of having founded the first eternal civilization.  We today differ from them in having our western civilization spread to embrace the entire planet, leaving no room on any continent for any other culture to take over if we fail.


Eric Hoffer, from The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

(My review of this book)

[There are] some peculiarities common to all mass movements, be they religious movements, social revolutions or nationalist movements. [They are not all] identical, but … they share certain essential characteristics which give them a family likeness. (xi)

… the frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements. (xii)

For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute … [and] wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap. (11)

One of the most potent attractions of a mass movement is its offering of a substitute for individual hope. This attraction is particularly effective in a society imbued with the idea of progress. For in the conception of progress, “tomorrow” looms large, and the frustration resulting from having nothing to look forward to is the more poignant. (15)

The present-day workingman in the Western world feels unemployment as a degradation. He sees himself disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things, and is willing to listen to those who call for a new deal. (27)

The cause of revolution in a totalitarian society is usually a weakening of the totalitarian framework rather than resentment against oppression and distress. (35)

The discontent generated in backward countries by their contact with Western civilization is not primarily resentment against exploitation by domineering foreigners. It is rather the result of a crumbling or weakening of tribal solidarity and communal life. (38)

The policy of an exploiting colonial power should be to encourage communal cohesion among the natives. It should foster equality and a feeling of brotherhood among them. For by how much the ruled blend and lose themselves into a compact whole, by so much is softened the poignancy of their individual futility; and the process which transmutes misery into frustration and revolt is checked at the source. The device of “divide and rule” is ineffective when it aims at a weakening of all forms of cohesion among the ruled. (39)

[Quoting Peter F. Drucker:] “Incentive wage plans that offer bonuses to individual workers do more harm than good. … Group incentive plans in which the bonus is based on the work of the whole team, including the foreman … are much more likely to promote greater productivity and greater satisfaction on the part of the workers.” (40)

A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence (41)

… a disintegrating army --- whether by the orderly process of demobilization or by desertion due to demoralization --- is fertile ground for a proselytizing movement. The man just out of the army is an ideal potential convert, and we find him among the early adherents of all contemporary mass movements. He feels alone and lost in the free-for-all of civilian life. The responsibilities and uncertainties of an autonomous existence weigh and prey upon him. He longs for certitude, camaraderie, freedom from individual responsibility … and he finds all this in the brotherhood and the revivalist atmosphere of a rising movement. (45)

… frustration not only gives rise to the desire for unity [with a larger cause] and the readiness for self-sacrifice but also creates a mechanism for their realization. Such diverse phenomena as a deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are … unifying agents and prompters of recklessness. (59)

It is doubtful whether in our contemporary world, with its widespread individual differentiation, any measure of general self-sacrifice can be realized without theatrical hocus-pocus and fireworks. (67)

The indispensability of play-acting in the grim business of dying and killing is particularly evident in the case of armies. … In their battle orders army leaders invariably remind their soldiers that the eyes of the world are on them, that their ancestors are watching them and that posterity shall hear of them. (67) [Henry V speech]

The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ. … To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. (79)

There is apparently some connection between dissatisfaction with oneself and a proneness to credulity. The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They ask to be deceived. (83)

The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. (85)

Even in the case of a just grievance, our hatred comes less from a wrong done to us than from the consciousness of our helplessness, inadequacy and cowardice --- in other words from self-contempt. (94)

Should Americans begin to hate foreigners whole-heartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.” (96)

One cannot maintain with certitude that it would be impossible for a Hitler or a Stalin to rise in a country with an established tradition of freedom. What can be asserted with some plausibility is that in a traditionally free country a Hitler or a Stalin might not find it too difficult to gain power but extremely hard to maintain himself indefinitely. Any marked improvement in economic conditions would almost certainly activate the tradition of freedom which is a tradition of revolt. … in a traditionally free country the individual who pits himself against coercion does not feel an isolated human atom but one of a mighty race — his rebellious ancestors. (160)


Ole R. Holsti, from Making American Foreign Policy

(My review of this Book)
When asked about the percentage of the federal budget that goes to foreign aid, the median and mean responses were 25 and 31 percent, whereas in fact the correct figure is less than 1 percent. When asked about the appropriate level of foreign assistance, the comparable figures were 10 percent and 17 percent. These results again confirm the fact that sentiments for reducing foreign aid --- one of the constants of virtually all surveys that deal with the issue --- are based on vastly exaggerated conceptions about actual American outlays for such programs.

Despite vowing to govern "based on principle and not polls and focus groups," the [Bush] administration spent about one million dollars in 2001 on surveys. The results of the polls [were] used less to align decisions with public sentiments and more to develop effective rhetorical strategies to see preferred policies.


Richard A. Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman,
from The Message and the Kingdom:
How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World

Formerly autonomous regions, where traditional agricultural methods aimed at subsistence, not surplus, were drawn [by the Roman Empire] into an increasingly centralized economy where some people prospered mightily and others sank into helplessness and debut.

... Paul had come to believe that in an age of patrons and clients, of power and exploitation, of status and possessions, only continual acts of radical self-sacrifice ... could renew and redeem the world.


Michel Houellebecq
, from Submission

(My review of this book)

The change in the political regime had left no visible mark on the [Chinese] neighborhood [in Paris] .... Nothing, not even a Muslim government, could curb their incessant activity --- Muslim proselytizing would dissolve without a trace, like the Christian message before it, in the vast ocean of their civilization. (143)


Ha Jin, from The Crazed

(My review of this Book)
My roommate Mantao often quipped that China was a paradise for idiots, who were well treated because they incurred no jealousy, posed no threat to anyone, and made no trouble for the authorities --- they were model citizens through and through.... Indeed, most of the retarded and the demented were taken care of by the state. [He] went so far as to claim that this 'pseudo-philanthropy," a word he actually used, had caused China to degenerate intellectually as a nation.
.............................. Jian Wan a graduate student of literature in China, in the novel.


Miranda July
, from The First Bad Man

(My review of this book)

“… as with any child, you won’t know if he can run until he runs.”

“Okay, I see. And besides running? Should we keep an eye out for anything in the future?”

“Oh, the future, I see.” A shadow fell over the doctor’s face. “You’re wondering if your son will get cancer? Or be hit by a car? Or be bipolar? Or have autism? Or drug problems? I don’t know, I’m not a psychic. Welcome to parenthood.” He swiveled and walked away.

The night feeds were at one A.M., three A.M., five A.M. and seven A.M. Three A.M. was the bad one. All the other hours retained some elements of civilization … [ff]

… [I] remembered I was always going to die at the end of this life anyway. What did it really matter if I spent it like this --- caring for this boy --- as opposed to some other way? … he hadn’t robbed me of my ability to fly or to live forever. [ff]

For the first time in my life I understood TV, why everyone watched it. It helped. Not in the long run, of course, but minute by minute.


Barbara Kingsolver, from The Lacuna

(My review of this Book)
...outdoors the sun was cold, shining without heat, like an electric bulb. Crowds hurried along, unconcerned their star had no fire.

[She] was shredding chicken breasts for the chalupas, grunting as she worked, settling an old grudge with those hens.

"In the house of your [Mexican] mother, a taste for beauty and poetry. Secret passions, I suspect. And in the gringo side [of your father], a head that's always thinking and surviving."
..............................Frida Kahlo

"[Newspapers] tell the truth only as the exception. Zola wrote that the mendacity of the press could be divided into two groups: the yellow press lies every day without hesitating. But others, like the Times, speak the truth on all inconsequential occasions, so they can deceive the public with the requisite authority when it becomes necessary."
..............................Lev Trotsky

"A story is like a painting.... It doesn't have to look like what you see out the window."
..............................Frida Kahlo

Harrison Shepherd: "But people desire fair government. You say that constantly."
Lev Trotsky: "They want to believe in heroes, also. And villains. Especially when very frightened. It's less taxing than the truth."

His desk calendar, if it is there, lies open to August 20, the page he last turned over, with life's full and ordinary expectation. The thought of that brought a crumpling grief, kneeling in the upstairs [library] stacks waiting for something inside to burst...

The unusual respect for silence. [Her] silences outlasted her sentences every time, and carried greater weight. How will their tongue survive in a modern world, where the talkers rush to trample every pause?


Jon Krakauer, from Into Thin Air

Attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act --- a triumph of desire over sensibility.  any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.

Perhaps this is the rationale of all risky sports: You deliberately raise the ante of effort and concentration in order, as it were, to clear your mind of trivialities.


J.M.G. Le Clézio, from Desert

(My review of this Book)
[Entering] a chasm that opens at the bottom of a rocky ravine... [he] leads her along the narrow tunnel that descends into the earth. All of a sudden they stop: the long tunnel is bathed in light because it opens right out into the sky. ... they never stopped going down, but it's true nevertheless: the sky is right there in front of her, immense and weightless. She stands motionless, breathless, wide-eyed. Here, all that's left is sky, so clear that you think you're a bird flying through the air.

She drinks in the extremely soft light coming from the clusters of stars, and suddenly she has the feeling ...that it is so very close, she could simply reach out her hand and take a handful of the beautiful shimmering light.

One day, oh, one day, I will look into the mirror and see your face, and I will hear the sound of your voice in the bottom of the well, and I will recognize your footsteps in the sand, one day, oh, one day I will learn the day of my death, for that will be the day I will lose my love...
One day, oh, one day, the sun will be dark, the earth will split open to its very core, the sea will cover the desert, one day, oh, one day, my eyes will see no light, my lips will be unable to say your name, my heart will suffer no more, for that will be the day I will leave my love...
..............................final stanzas of a song of the Western Sahara


Alberto Manguel, from A History of Reading

...largely my encounters with books have been a matter of chance, like meeting those passing strangers who in the fifteenth canto Dante's Hell ... suddenly find in an appearance, a glance, a word, an irresistible attraction.

...Kafka wrote ... "I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? ... A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us."

[The] Edict of Milan ... ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman empire, who until then had been regarded as outlaws and traitors, and punished accordingly. But the persecuted turned persecutors: to assert the authority of the new state religion, several Christian leaders adopted the methods of their enemies.


Javier Marías
from Dark Back of Time

... [the] professors who harbor so many illusions about their occupation and so few about their lot in life.

... the most difficult and desirable thing in a marriage is managing sometimes to see the other person as new and unknown ...

... my hurried daily passage ... through the distracted streets that tolerate us for a time without growing impatient because they know none of us will pass through them forever, none of us.

You forget whole years, and not necessarily the least important ones.

We set too many things in motion and then leave them, and their inertia, weak as it is, out lives us: the words that replace us and that someone occasionally remembers or passes on, not always confessing to their provenance; the letters smoothed flat, the bent photographs, the notes written on yellow paper, left for a woman who will sleep alone in the aftermath of wakeful caresses because we leave in the middle of the night like a scoundrel who is just passing through; the objects and furniture that served us and that we allowed into our homes --- a red chair, a pen, an image of India, a toy soldier made of lead, a comb --- ... the books ... we buy and read only once or that remain closed on the shelf to the last and then carry on somewhere else with their life of waiting, hoping for other eyes more avid or more placid than ours ...

... people say: "There was still so much left for him to do," as if what we do were what justified our lives or what we miss about our dead, and not their presence and their gestures and their unbiased account of events or, even more, their listening attentiveness to our own account.

... the brief truce of Christmas Day, 1915, a spontaneous, un-negotiated cease fire between the English and the Germans.]

It's frightening to think of hours --- soon distant and forgotten, yet so slow and negligible while they're going by --- during which our friends and relatives think we're alive when in fact we are dead ...

... our vestiges and emanations and effects do not disappear at the same time we do, but remain forever stored away as almost untouchable reliquaries, ... when someone isn't there we become aware of the perpetual, silent communion between people and things...

No one knows [how he died], and perhaps it wasn't very important to know, sometimes effects are so annihilating that only a morbid mind can insist on ascertaining their causes...

... the future exists only to become the past.

... for children the present is so strong every moment seems eternal and excludes whatever is not there in it, whatever is past or future, which is why children find it so hard to bear even the slightest setback or reversal, they believe them to be definitive; they see no more than the now they live embedded in, so if they're hungry to thirsty or need to pee they cannot wait, they fly into a rage ... they experience any delay, even if it's only two minutes long, they don't know what a minute is, or an hour or a day, they don't know what time is, they don't understand that in fact it consists in just that, in passing and being lost, in its own passage and loss to the point of sometimes becoming impossible to remember.

Javier Marías

from Heart So White (fiction)

The only time we [politicians] get any support is when we go to war ...
..............................a high-ranking politician

... these democratic politicians all have dictatorial longings, for them any achievement and any form of consensus will always only be the pale realization of a deeply totalitarian desire, the desire for unanimity ...

If no one ever obliged anyone to do anything, the world would grind to a halt ...

It's always the chest of the other person we lean back against for support .... That's how most married people and most couple sleep or think they sleep ...

Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what's going on ...

... We children know nothing about our parents, or it takes us a very long time to become interested.

From tomorrow [the day after the wedding] onwards, there'll be no more of the small unknowns that have filled my days for nearly a year now, or have meant that my days were lived in the best way possible, that is, in a state of vague expectation and ignorance.

The random, inconsequential steps you take one night can, after enough time ... end up carrying you into some unavoidable situation and, confronted by that situation, we sometimes ask ourselves with incredulous excitement: 'What if I hadn't...

... sometimes the very people who warn us against certain ideas end up putting those ideas in our heads, they give them to us precisely because they warn us about them and make us think about things that would never have occurred to us otherwise.

... because I have money, I was able to decide the movements of two people ...

I didn't talk to her when we were both at school and I didn't talk to her later on either, at first because I didn't dare to and later because the time for it has passed.

Money [attracts] more money, money reduces fear and buys new clothes every season, money means that a smile and a look can be loved as they deserve and may last longer than they otherwise would. ... I wasn't thinking about myself but about the path her life would take, about how it would go on, thinking for a second that I might have been capable of changing it ...

... woman feel an unalloyed curiosity about things and never imagine or anticipate the nature of the thing about which they know nothing, of what might come to light, of what might happen.

It's odd the way sometimes a thought comes to us with such force and clarity that nothing can stand between it and its execution.

Javier Marías

from The Infatuations

(My review of this Book)
The world belongs so much to the living and so little to the dead... that the former tend to think that the death of a loved one is something that has happened more to them than to the deceased, who is, after all, the person who has died. ... he is the one who has lost everything that was to come, ... who has had to renounce his desire to know and his curiosity, who left plans unfulfilled and words unspoken, thinking that there would always be time later on ...

... the awful power of the present, which crushes the past more easily as the past recedes, and falsifies it too without the past getting a chance to speak, protest, contradict or refute anything.

... we always think that whatever pleases or bring us joy, whatever solaces or succours us, whatever drives us through the days, could have lasted a little longer, a year, a few months, a few weeks, a few hours, we always feel it is too soon for things or people to end ... which is why the ending of things does not lie in our hands, because if it did, everything would continue indefinitely, becoming grubby and contaminated, and no living creature would ever die.

Javier Marías

from The Man of Feeling

(My review of this book)

… perhaps they did not speak at all and merely lay in the same bed for eight hours from which all diurnal memory was erased, without looking at each other, without touching, not even in dreams, two bodies together night after night, in mutual oblivion, for years. (77)

She is no longer young. ... The sight that [she] sees today is familiar, changes go unnoticed on a daily basis, then, inexplicably and unfairly, one day, which is in no way different from the previous day or the next, something has altered and that alteration remains. One never knows if the offending defect ... has actually appeared on that precise day or if, on that particular day, one's own sight is simply more penetrating or more courageous or perhaps simply decides quite arbitrarily to notice it. (79)

It is always a serious moment when you notice for the first time one particular part of a woman’s body, because the discovery is so dazzling that it stops you looking away even for an instant; it distracts you from the conversation and the other people around, and when you have no option but to turn your gaze towards, for example, a waiter who is asking you something, your eyes, as they return, do not travel through space from one point to another, nor do they slowly take in the view, instead they alight once more, without pause, on the one thing that they want to see and at which they cannot stop staring. It is impossible to behave correctly. (98)

When you die, I will truly mourn you. I will approach your transfigured face to plant desperate kisses on your lips in one last effort, full of arrogance and faith, to return you to the world that has rendered you redundant. I will feel that my own life bears a wound and will consider my own history to have split in two by that final, definitive moment of yours. I will tenderly close your surprised, reluctant eyes and I will watch over your white, mutant body all through the night and into the pointless dawn that will never have known you. I will remove your pillow and the damp sheets. Incapable of conceiving of life without your daily presence and seeing you lying there, lifeless, I will want to rush headlong after you. I will visit your tomb and, alone in the cemetery, having climbed up the steep hill and having looked at you, lovingly, wearily, through the inscribed stone, I will talk to you. I will see my own death foretold in yours, I will look at my own photo and, recognizing myself in your stiff features, I will cease to believe in the reality of your extinction because it gives body and credibility to my own. For no one is capable of imagining their own death. (169)

Javier Marís , from Thus Bad Begins

(My review of this Book)

… one of those griefs that you put off because you don’t want to confront or plunge into it and which, nevertheless, always comes back, recurs, grows deeper with each attack, having failed to disappear during the period you were keeping it at bay or far from your thoughts. (14)

One learns this early on, in childhood --- that the thing one is tempted to say, to tell or ask or propose, almost always bursts out, emerges, as though no force --- no restraint or even reason --- were strong enough to stop it, for we nearly always lose our battles against our own excitable tongues. (16)

… to seek retrospective or abstract vengeance, what they would call justice when there can be no posthumous justice. (36)

A war like [the Spanish Civil War] is a stigma that takes one or even two centuries to disappear, because it contains everything and affects and debases everything. It contains the very worst of everything. It was like removing the mask of civilization that all presentable nations wear … and which allows them to pretend. Pretending is essential if we are to live together, to prosper and progress, and here, where we’ve seen the criminals’ true faces, seen what happened, pretense is impossible. It will take a very long time for us to forget what we are or what we could be, and how easily too, all it takes is a single match. (37)

But none of this holds true when you’re twenty-three --- on the contrary. It’s then that you’re most capable of deceiving, of playing tricks and using sophistry to persuade, of committing treacherous acts, pretending to be hard done by and even humiliating yourself in order to get what you want, of trying to arouse a woman’s pity, pretending to be tormented or ill, of lying to a woman and betraying a friend, of resorting to contemptible behavior of which you will later feel ashamed, or which you will try not to recall so as to pretend it never happened… (195)

… when you give up trying to know what you cannot know, perhaps, to paraphrase Shakespeare, perhaps that is when bad begins… (270)

…our level of credulity has reverted to what it was in the Middle Ages, with rumor stuffing our ears with false reports … and we refuse to ask for proof, accepting everything as credible because everything has already happened, or so we believe. (285)

… perhaps she wasn’t bothered about waking me, probably too absorbed in her own thoughts and able to think only of them --- insomnia is very selfish. (298)

In the middle of the night everything seems plausible and real. (299)


Julián Marías, from Understanding Spain

Nothing is more difficult than thoroughly knowing a foreign country; accumulation of facts never takes the place of direct impression, of actual experience of a given form of life. Knowledge of a country not one's own is always abstract, composed of fragments that in themselves are unintelligible.

...the lack of knowledge displayed by every country about every other country is immense; and certain facts or trait that affect one are thought to be exclusive of it and nonexistent in others.

Egalitarianism may be a proper standard when it means the wish to establish equality of rights, equality before the law, equality of opportunity; but it is a disastrous principle when we are trying to understand the real. There is no equality of reality, of value, of effort, of fortune, of destiny. When we are speaking of individual persons, abstract and programmatic equalities do no mean that those persons are equal in their actual reality. There are peoples who are more or less creative, original, fruitful ... and we could say the same about historical periods...

...authority ... as opposed to mere power; something that acts at a distance, without force, by means of admiration, prestige, the norm internally observed and lived.

Mere utilitarianism or greed is not an adequate explanation [for what drove exploration of the New World by Castilian Spain].

I believe that the deepest damage produced in Spanish cultural life by the existence of the Inquisition was not whether it pursued or repressed great creative minds. There were some, a few of them --- only a few --- who were molested or persecuted, and not even that suppressed them entirely. What the Inquisition did do was to dissuade them from entering into certain questions that attracted its attention too much, which could be the object of troublesome scrutiny, which in its eyes were suspect. It almost never had to exercise real violence: its presence was sufficient, an undesirable vigilance that, even to being with and before the stage of fear was reached, cut off at the root the latitude, the spontaneity, that certain forms of creativity demand. It killed precisely those forms that are not combative or polemic, those that are not directed against anything or anyone, but consist of the serene, peaceful, and sometimes even playful search for truth.

[It was] a failure to see that what cannot be asked cannot be demanded; there was an attempt to impose by law what was licit only as a desire.

Religion [in 18th century Spain] was ceasing to be a belief in which one is installed (or a personal faith, in a large number of individual persons), and was becoming a posture --- for a minority an ideology --- in favor of which, or against which, one fought.

A more immediate danger lies in regrowth of the "right" and "left" dichotomy ... [whose] chief motive force lies in laziness, resistance to the effort required to invent something more interesting and sensible.


Susan Mattern, from Rome and the Enemy

... decisions [of the Roman decision-making elite] were based more on a traditional and stereotyped view of foreign peoples than on systematic intelligence about their political, social and cultural institutions. The Greeks and Romans began a long tradition of western perceptions of the alien or "barbarian." The relationships between these perceptions and later imperialist efforts such as the Crusades, the conquest of the New World, or nineteenth-century European imperialism is obvious...


Colum McCann, from TransAtlantic

(My review of this Book)

The elaborate search for a word, like the turning of a chain handle on a well. Dropping the bucket down the mineshaft of the mind. Taking up empty bucket after empty bucket until, finally, at an unexpected moment, it caught hard and had a sudden weight and she raised the word, then delved down into the emptiness once more.

There are times --- months later, years later, a decade later even --- that it strikes Lottie how very odd it is to be abandoned by language, how the future demands what should have been asked in the past, how words can escape us with such ease, and we are left, then, only with the pursuit.

She looked like the sort of woman who had once, long ago, had a steel rod expertly inserted up her backside.


Eduardo Mendoza, from What is Happening in Spain (Qué está pasando en Cataluña)

(My review of this book)

Someone defined Francoism [the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain, from 1939 to 1975] as a dictatorship mitigated by a general failure to keep the law. A juridical peculiarity of the dictatorship was to establish some strict rules, but then permit that they be broken, without renouncing the possibility of applying them when it was considered opportune. (24)

Alguien definió el franquismo como una dictadura mitigada por el general incumplimiento de la ley. Era una peculiaridad jurídica de la dictadura establecer unas normas estrictas y permitir que se incumplieran, sin renunciar a la posibilidad de aplicarlas cuando lo estimara oportuno. (24)

The illusion of democracy lies in the belief that democracy is a superior state in which it is sufficient to invoke it as if it were a charm through which all problems can be resolved. But it is not that. The life of a society is difficult. Democracy offers some means of mitigating arbitrariness and abuse of power, but nothing more. It only constitutes the rules of a system, as merciless as any other one. (69)

El sueño de la democracia consiste en creer que la democracia es un estado superior en el cual basta invocarla como si fuera un sortilegio para que se resuelvan todos los problemas. Pero no es así. La vida de una sociedad es dura. La democracia ofrece algunas recurso para mitigar la arbitrariedad y el abuso del poder, pero no más. Es sólo el reglamento de un sistema tan despiadado como cualquier otro. (69)

In reality, countries don’t exist. What exists are some societies ever more blended and ever more depersonalized and more devoid of identity, if by identity we understand the old definition. After all is said and done, we are all of us consumers of franchises. (77)

En realidad, no existen los países. Existen unas sociedades cada vez más mezcladas y cada vez más despersonalizadas y más desprovistas de identidad, si por identidad entendemos lo antiguo. A fin de cuentas, todos somos consumidores de franquicias. (77)

The political position of the contra movements is a characteristic of an age in which has disappeared any form of opposition to a social-economic system that is dismantling with impunity the welfare state and any hint of distributive justice. A considerable sector of the electorate exercises their vote as a punishment --- a castigation. This is understandable, but the result can be noxious. In the best cases it leads to instability; in the worst, to situations worse than those against which those contra movements sprang up. (83)

Las posturas políticas a la contra son una characterística de una época en la que ha desaparecido cualquier forma de oposicíon a un sistema socioeconómico que va desmantelando impunemente el estado de bienestar y cualquier amago de justicia distributiva. Un considerable sector del electorado ejerce el voto de castigo. Es comprensible, pero el resultado suele ser nocivo. En el mejor de los casos conduce a la inestabilidad; en el peor, a situaciones peores que aquéllas contra las que se ha actuado. (83) 


María Rosa Menocal,
from Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

[In Don Quixote] Cervantes portrays a universe in which literature is not a refuge from the demands of political engagement but the most powerful weapon against certain realities, most of all against tyranny in its most extreme forms.


John Stuart Mill

from Right Again: The passions of John Stuart Mill, by Adam Gonik, in The New Yorker, 6 October 2008; a review of the book by Richard Reeves, John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand [John Stuart Mill] became notorious for having once described the Conservatives [party in British Parliament] as "necessarily the stupidest party." What he meant wasn't that Conservatives were stupid …. He meant that, since true conservatism is a complicated position, demanding a good deal of restraint when action is what seems to be wanted, and a long view of history when an immediate call to arms I about, it tends to break down into tribal nationalism, which is stupidity incarnate. For Mill, intelligence is defined by sufficient detachment from one's own case to consider it as one of many; a child becomes humanly intelligent the moment it realizes that there are other minds just like its own, working in the same way on the material available to them. The tribal nationalist is stupid because he fails to recognize that, given a slight change of location and accident of birth, he would have embraced the position of his adversary. Put him in another's shoes and he would turn them into Army boots as well.


Henry de Montherlant, from Chaos and Night

(My review of this Book) "To the south there's the Vatican. The dome of St. Peter's is the candle-snuffer of Western thought."
..............................Don Celestino Marcilla

He used to say that anyone who enjoyed his work had no time to spare for political opinions.

Since he had become indifferent to everything, did it matter what he did with his time, or even if did nothing? And so, from morning till night … he frittered away his time until he could go to bed early and bury himself in the oblivion of sleep.

[The bull] pawed the ground, then retreated as the matador advanced. Quite obviously, the poor beast was terrified. When it could not bear it any longer, it turned round and trotted off towards the barrier, pursued by the horde of toreros. The corrida had turned into a hunt.

… the matador … was executing a pass. But the bull did not react. Motionless, it simply bellowed, and its bellowing seemed to say: 'Why are you tormenting me like this? What have I done to you?'


Alberto Moravia, from Agostino

(My review of this book)

Agostino’s sense of oppression and silent pain was made more bitter and unbearable by the fresh wind on the sea and the magnificent blazing of the sunset over the violet waters. He found it utterly unjust that on such a sea, beneath such a sky, a boat like theirs should be so full of spite, cruelty, and malicious corruption. (66)


Antonio Muñoz Molina, from A Manuscript of Ashes

(My review of this Book) What a strange logic of memory and pain conspires silently to transform the prison of another time into paradise...

Orlando's judgment [was]... "What I like most about this city is that her beauty is absolutely inexplicable and useless, like the beauty of a body you encounter when you turn a corner."

[He brought] to these actions a useless urgency, a somnambulistic haste ... as if death were not something definitive, as if it could be stopped or mitigated by pretending they were ministering not to a corpse but a sick person..."

It was as if time or the chance that governs such transfigurations had used the past ten years to complete a work --- the face, the hands, the figure of Beatriz --- which earlier, when I knew her, had only be foreshadowed and that reached their plenitude in the prelude to their decadence."
..............................Jacinto Solana

when I lost him, I wasn't losing only the one man I could call my friend but also the right to remember or know how my life had been before I renounced it forever. Things exist only if there is someone, an interlocutor or a witness, who allows us to recall that at one time they were true. Which is why he would say that the worst misfortune for a lover is not losing his love but being left alone with his memory, left blind...
[Don Pedro Salinas wrote:] "For there's another being through whom I look at the world, because she loves me with her eyes."


Haruki Murakami, from 1Q84

(My review of this Book) Human beings are ultimately nothing but carriers --- passageways --- for genes. They ride us into the ground like racehorses from generation to generation. Genes don't think about what constitutes good or evil. They don't care whether we are happy or unhappy. We're just a means to an end for them. The only thing they think about is what is most efficient for them.
..............................the dowager


Joyce Carol Oates, from Give Me Your Heart

(My review of this Book)

... intimacy is the enemy of romance. The dailiness of marriage is the enemy of immortality. Who would wish to be immortal if it's a matter of reliving just the past week?

A woman whose home is entered, a woman who can't provide some gesture of hospitality, is a woman disoriented, disadvantaged, like one suffering from that infection of the inner ear that determines our ability to keep our balance.

... children hear what is not said more keenly that what is.

Stands of lilac growing wild. That rich smothering smell, there's a kind of madness in it.

... without a clear future, a vision of some sort of happiness, the present becomes unendurable in a very short time.

When two adults co-habiting fail to have children, they remain perpetual children themselves.

Joyce Carol Oates, from Heat, and other stories

(My review of this Book)

It was a lonely autumn day, one of those heartbreak days when you realize you must die though you want to live forever... (116)

... she learned of manners, the significance of manners. What are manners but devices to control and calibrate impurity, strategies of protecting oneself from others and protecting others from oneself? The breakdown in a culture is signaled by, and in turn signals, a breakdown in ordinary manners. (117)


Geoffrey O'Connor, from Amazon Journal: Dispatches from a Vanishing Frontier

Today, as in Columbus's time, ideology and perception have become intertwined as convenient, flexible frames of reference for justifying the economic imperatives of the particular colonial or national societies ruling over the indigenous populations of [the American] hemisphere. ... [Those on the European expeditions] shared a vision of themselves as superior beings motivated by a higher purpose, bringing progress and civilization to a backward and deprived people. That is the history, and the story we have told to our children and grandchildren, of the conquest of the Americas --- a tale steeped in the mythology of the Western world with its people depicted as being swept up in a developmental trajectory that began in ancient Greece...

"History is ... converted into a tale about the furtherance of virtue, about how the virtuous win out over the bad guys. Frequently, this turns into a story of how the winners prove that they are virtuous and good by winning."
.............................. Anthropologist Eric Wolf

... reckless hubris seems endemic to whites on the frontier, regardless of whether they are missionaries or gold miners or journalists. As Father John Saffirio said ... "It is very dangerous to be a fearless man."

... attracted but afraid, two common preconditions of many forms of seduction.

Ironically, it was the positive disposition of the Indians --- something one would assume [the missionaries] should be happy about --- that they saw as an obstacle to be overcome [quoting from a article written by missionaries]: "Good times and an abundance of food, plus a number of other sneaky factors, seem to be detrimental to the growth of the Church and the propagation of the Gospel of Christ."

Try as we might to deny it, human beings are ritual beings. We can approximate a dispassionate objectivity but we can never attain it: our stories and our beliefs get in the way.

"I've realized that a miracle is not going to happen. What happens is process, long, hard, boring process which eventually, I hope, pays off."
.............................. Sting


José Ortega y Gasset, from The Revolt of the Masses

(My review of this book)

It is precisely because man’s vital time is limited, precisely because he is mortal, that he needs to triumph over distance and delay. For an immortal being, the motor-car would have no meaning. (39)

To live is to feel ourselves fatally obliged to exercise our liberty, to decide what we are going to be in this world. Not for a single moment is our activity of decision allowed to rest. Even when in desperation we abandon ourselves to whatever may happen, we have decided not to decide. It is, then, false to say that in life “circumstances decide.” On the contrary, circumstances are the dilemma, constantly renewed, in presence of which we have to make our decision; what actually decides is our character. (48)

Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. (71)

[The] stable, normal relation amongst men which is known as “rule” never rests on force; on the contrary, it is because a man or group of men exercise command that they have at their disposition that social apparatus or machinery known as “force.” (126)

It is necessary to distinguish between a process of aggression and a state of rule. Rule is the normal exercise of authority, and is always based on public opinion, to-day as a thousand years ago, amongst the English as amongst the bushmen. Never has anyone ruled on this earth by basing his rule essentially on any other thing than public opinion. ... What happens is that at times public opinion is non-existent. A society divided into discordant groups, with their forces of opinion cancelling one another out, leaves no room for a ruling power to be constituted. And as "nature abhors a vacuum” the empty space left by the absence of public opinion is filled by brute force. At the most, then, the latter presents itself as a substitute for the former. (126-127)

… to live means to have something definite to do — a mission to fulfill — and in the measure in which we avoid setting our life to something, we make it empty. (136)

The State begins by being absolutely a work of imagination. Imagination is the liberating power possessed by man. A people is capable of becoming a State in the degree in which it is able to imagine. (155)


Orhan Pamuk, from Snow

(My review of this book)

... [he] had tired of his own country's never-ending troubles and come to despise its backwardness, only to find himself gazing back with love and longing after a move to Europe. (33)

... I was not immune to the power of that shimmering fiction that any citizen of an oppressive and aggressively nationalistic country will understand only too well: the magical unity conjured by the word we. (426)


Octavio Paz, from The Labyrinth of Solitude

Our century is a huge cauldron in which all historical eras are boiling and mingling.

We have not yet found a way of reconciling liberty with order, ... and both with the evidence ... of our fellowship with others.

Past epochs never vanish completely, and blood still drips from all their wounds, even the most ancient.

[Criticism in the United States] is a criticism that respects the existing systems and never touches the roots.

The fusion of the state and ... the 'military-industrial complex' is one of the most disquieting aspects of the evolution of the capitalist countries. ... it is not a matter of the domination of the state by financial and economic groups but rather of the emergence of almost institutional formations which, through control of economic, military, and political means propose a politics of national and/or world domination; and it is not the domination of politics and the state by the financial interests of a minority but rather a monopoly of control over the economy and the state by groups and systems in which the interests of politicians, financiers, and the military are indistinguishable.

Today, the United States faces very powerful enemies, but the mortal danger comes from within: ... from the mixture of arrogance and opportunism, blindness and short-term Machiavellianism, volubility and stubbornness which has characterized its foreign policies during recent years ...


Michael Pollan, from The Omnivore's Dilemma

(My review of this Book)

[Ortega y Gasset noted:] "Humanity sees itself as something emerging from animality, but it cannot be sure of having transcended that state completely. The animal remains too close for us not to feel mysterious communication with it."


Qiu Miaojin, from Last Words from Montmartre

(My review of this book)

Maybe the world has always been the same, maybe it has always crushed to bits anything you hoped it would not crush. (8)

Materialism, utilitarianism, possessiveness, selfishness, aggression, destructiveness, domination … I can’t stand these characteristics in others. These qualities saturate society, causing me to become unhealthy and wounded, and so I run away. (86)

In life there is an ineffable, restless anxiety that accompanies us, so very, very imprisoning… (137)


Anna Quindlen, from Miller's Valley

(My review of this Book)

It’s a wiggly word, progress: a two-lane gravel road turned into four lanes paved that makes life a noisy misery for the people with houses there, a cornfield turned into a strip mall with a  hair salon, a supermarket, and a car wash.  Corn’s better than a car wash.  We washed our own cars with a garden hose until our kids got old enough to do it for us. (5)

I just sat there, amazed at the way the whole world had just tilted while we were sitting at the table. (202)


David Rabe, from Girl by the Road at Night

(My review of this Book)

He does not know how she woke in the night to eat an orange and stare at him and think of the legendary Old Man of the Moon who sits in moonlight reading his book in which are recorded the connections that will come between people in the world. Quick and silent as a spider, he puts a web of invisible, rosy threads throughout the world until all people everywhere who are destined to be pairs are linked in a secret, lovely manner. Down through their lives the threads draw the lovers, down the trails and rivers, from city to forest, until they finally meet and love. Holding in her palm a wedge of orange she didn't eat, Lan felt her threads running to the air. The wind had them. No old man anywhere knew of her.

She's a complete f**king mystery, like the weather in some far-off part of the world changing the weather where he is. Like the planets and their shifting in a horoscope, and you read it in the newspaper and say, "What the f**k?"


Kim Stanley Robinson, from 2312

(My review of this Book)
...capitalism writhed in its internal decision concerning whether to destroy Earth’s biosphere or change its rules. Many argued for the destruction of the biosphere, as being the lesser of two evils.

in residual-emergent models, any given economoic system or historical moment is an unstable mix of past and future systems.

Humans were still not only the cheapest robots around, but also, for many tasks, the only robots that could do the job. They were self-reproducing robots too. They showed up and worked, generation after generation; give them three thousand calories a day and few amenities, a little time off, and a strong jolt of fear, and you could work them at almost anything.

There were of course very powerful forces on Earth adamantly opposed to tinkering from above in general, and to creating full employment in particular. Full employment, if enacted, would remove "wage pressure" --- which phrase had always meant fear struck into the hearts of the poor, also into the hearts of anyone who feared becoming poor, which meant almost everyone on Earth. This fear was a major tool of social control, indeed the prop that held up the current order despite its obvious failures. Even though it was a system so bad that everyone in it lived in fear, either of starvation of the guillotine, still they clutched to it harder than ever. It was painful to witness.

Jevons Paradox, which states that the better human technology gets, the more harm we do with it.

No one ever does something consciously for the last time without feeling a little sad, Dr. Johnson had once remarked so well.


José Saramago, from Seeing

(My review of this Book)

He did all this with great concentration in order to keep his thoughts at bay, in order to let them in only one at a time, having first asked them what they contained, because you can't be too careful with thoughts, some present themselves to us with a cloying air of false innocence and then, when it's too late, reveal their true wicked selves.
..............................the superintendent

...he ended up choosing a restaurant which, despite the three stars promised on the menu, only put one on his plate.
..............................the superintendent

...not only are the people in government never put off by what we judge to be absurd, they make use of absurdities to dull consciences and to destroy reason.
..............................the superintendent

...how often fears come to sour our life and prove, in the end, to have no foundation, no reason to exist.


José Saramago, from Death With Interruptions

(My review of this Book)

The church, prime minister, has grown so accustomed to eternal answers that I can't imagine it giving any other kind, Even if reality contradicts them, We've done nothing but contradict reality from the outset, and yet we're still here ... The church has never been asked to explain anything, our specialty ... has always, been the neutralization of the overly curious mind through faith.
..............................conversation between the cardinal and the prime minister
..............................(I have added italics not in the original to clarify who is speaking)

When the rehearsal ends, [the cellist] will put his cello in its case and take a taxi home, a taxi with a large trunk, and maybe tonight, after supper, he'll put the sheet music for the Bach suite on the stand, take a deep breath and draw the bow across the strings so that the first note thus born can console him for the irredeemable banalities of the world and so that the second, if possible, will make him forget them.


José Saramago, from The Cave

[A cemetery is] a place where we know beforehand that what awaits us is our own memory and perhaps a tear. (31)

... he was intelligent enough to know that the important thing was not to stand there, with prayers or without, looking at the grave, the important thing was to have come, the important thing is the road you walked, the journey you made ... (32)

... just as there are times when all it takes for us to dissolve into tears is for someone to place a hand on our shoulder, so the disinterested joy of a dog can reconcile us for one brief minute to the pains, sorrows, and disappointments of this world. (181)

... what was and is no more, could there be a bigger cemetery than that ... (255)


Timothy Shenk, in his essay What Was Socialism
The Nation magazine, 5 May 2014

...Democratic ideals have inspired countless egalitarian movements, but liberal democracy has triumphed across so much of the world because of its success as counterrevolutionary reform: no other political system has done a better job defanging social resentment and fostering acceptance of vast inequalities. The ability to dismiss elected officials when they prove disappointing might seem like a feeble vestige of what democracy promised, especially after tabulating the paltry fraction of the population that bothers to engage in the process, but it has proved remarkably effective at the baser task of protecting the powerful.


Stacy Schiff, from Saint-Exupery: A Biography

Asked ... [given her lifestyle] how she had managed the priest at confession she laughed and answered quickly, "Well, I was honest, I said, "Mon Pere, I am a daughter of Eve.  What can you expect?'"
..............................Consuelo, wife of Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 "There is an agreeable man in everyone, it goes along with the disagreeable.  The mistake made by many is to address themselves stubbornly to the latter."
..............................Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 "the early morning sky can cleanse a man's heart."
..............................Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 "I get terribly confused in love.  I disappoint and am contradictory.  But tenderness and friendship, once instilled in me, never perish."
..............................Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"I know no one here and want to even less," he wrote from his cafe table in a particularly misanthropic mood.  "The laughter and snatches of conversation that make their way to my corner are a torture.  These people seem to be simmering quietly away --- like a stew pot --- to the end of their days. What point is there to their lives?"
..............................Antoine de Saint-Exupery

As children will, [Saint-Exupery] understood ... the difference between the urgent and the important.
..............................of Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun,
interviewed on Fresh Air, 4 February 2014:

One of the remarkable things about joy, is that it is sort of predicated on this idea of being very connected to somebody; I think Christopher Hitchens described having kids as 'your heart running around in somebody else's body,' and that feeling is so powerful it's almost scary, because there's almost like an implied sense of loss about it, it's like you love somebody so much that you are almost automatically afraid of losing them, that this connection is so deep that you can't think of that connection without thinking of that connection being broken. So, joy, in some ways, is almost a harder feeling to tolerate than sadness in some ways because it's so powerful and makes us so vulnerable but it's why it is also so profoundly special and what makes parenting to so many of us so huge and incomparable.


Victor Serge, from Unforgiving Years

(My review of this Book)

… such social changes depend on intellectual clarity, on critical thinking, which Serge increasingly saw both as impotent in the face of mass social conditioning and as threatened with outright extinction.
.............................. Introduction, by Richard Greeman, to the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

The one certain communion among men is found in exhaustion, in sleep.
.............................. D, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

The end justifies the means, what a swindle. No end can be achieved by anything but appropriate means. If we trample on the man of today, will we do anything worthwhile for the man of tomorrow?
.............................. D, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

Here's something that cerebral people have lost: the elation of leaping around a bonfire to the cadence of drums, the intoxication of feeling alive, simply. This loss must result in many strangely disastrous crimes.
.............................. D, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

Have you noticed how no terrestrial thing is ridiculous? Ridicule and meanness appear in the works of men.
.............................. from the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

…yesterday is simply the past. You deliver me from the rot of in action. We never feel ourselves dying in life except through contrasts, when one present suddenly splits apart to let another in, and we come back to life as yesterday's being dies.
.............................. Daria, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

Beware of false deductions, they lie at the end of the shortest line of reasoning. The world is only logical in appearance, or the lower scale of perception; in reality, it is rather mad…
.............................. Captain Potapov, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

We [the Soviet Union] have plenty of men, and so much space that we can afford to lose territory and troops in the interests of gaining time; we can inflict on our foes the weariness and despair of expanses without roads, victories without solutions…
.............................. Captain Potapov, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

…he adored a callous man-made deity which may be no realer than other gods but which you have to believe in to impose perfect discipline on soldiers, whether on the production line or the line of fire: the dog Labor, brother of Death since its ultimate effect is to destroy the laborer. The machine invisibly devours the mechanic's very substance, which is time. Production, you say? Production feeds and prepares war, which is a destruction of production and of man. Expanded production of the means of production is expanded destruction of human substance; the production of consumer goods has as its object maintaining the workforce in a fit state for labor, that is for wearing itself out, and this if the ring that closes the chain of pan-destruction…
.............................. from the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

Anguish is a betrayal of life only if it cries quits,…
.............................. Daria, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

The awesome might of the half perished! If there is to be a victory some day, it will belong to them [the survivors of Leningrad]…. [They] will have pulled through yet again. They will be vengeful, they will be barbaric, they will be cruelly, bafflingly tender, full of breathtaking sagacity…. They will deeply an instant flair in the fight for life, not dissimilar perhaps to the instincts of Ice Age primitives. What's more, they will have the enterprising brains of civilized men who have been cured of refinements. … What will we make of this peerless energy, for ourselves and for the world? A lever, or an ax for splitting skulls?
.............................. Daria, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge

There are no warriors anymore: only poor bastards facing exploding volcanoes. The cosmos has gone berserk…
.............................. Günther, in the novel Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge


Emily St. John Mandel, from Station Eleven

(My review of this book)

… she knows the way she dies a little every time someone asks her for change and she doesn’t give it to them means that she’s too soft for this world… (89)

… adulthood’s full of ghosts. … people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. (163)

A life, remembered, is a series of photographs and disconnected short films… (278)


Neal Stephenson, from Seveneves

(My review of this book)

But Henry wasn’t a parent, and he didn’t understand that when you were, almost nothing was more satisfying than seeing your kid sleep. (135)

“Fighting isn’t about knowing how …. It’s about deciding to.” (765)


Fritz Stern, from Das Feine Schweigen (The Polite Silence)

(My review of this Book)

[Carl Jacob Chrisoph Burckhardt (historian of art and culture; major progenitor of cultural history, 1818-1897) wrote:] "... es beginnt das Weltalter des Erwerbs und Verkehrs, und diese Interessen halten sich mehr und mehr für das Weltbestimmende."
("... the age of acquisition and trade is beginning, and these interests consider themselves more and more as globally decisive.")

[Burckhardt schrieb:] "Das Bedenklichste ist aber nicht der jetzige Krieg [1870/71 Franco-Prussian War], sondern die Aera von Kriegen in welche wir eingetreten sind, und auf diese muß sich der neue Geist einrichten."
(The most critical issue, however, is not the current war [1870/71 Franco-Prussian War], but rather the era of wars into which we have entered, and to which the new cultural spirit must orient itself.)

[Burckhardt schrieb:] "... wo das Renommiren der Straße anfängt und den Krieg erschreit, geniren sich alle Andern, und machen mit, auf daß man sich um des Himmels Willen nicht für feig halte, und namentlich auf daß sie nicht vor ihren Weibern als feig ercheinen."
(... where the swaggering on the street begins, clamoring for war, everyone else is embarrassed and joins in, so that they, for heaven's sake, not be taken for cowards, and especially do not appear cowardly to their women.)

[Burckhardt wrote:] "Einmal werden der entsetzliche Capitalismus von oben und das begehrliche Treiben von unten wie zwei Schnellzüge auf demselben Geleise gegen einander prallen."
(At some point appalling capitalism from above and covetous striving from below will crash into one another like two express trains on the same track.)

Demokratie bedingt "suffrage universelle" ... mit den Aufkommen gierigster Mittelmäßigkeit verbunden. Die Staatsmacht wird immer größer, der Militarismus wächst, und der "Militärstaat muß Großfabricant werden" --- eine Warnung, die ein paar Jahrzehnte später Präsident Eisenhower mit dem Wort von "military-industrial complex" beschwören wird.
(Democracy requires universal suffrage ... linked to the emergence of greediest mediocrity. The power of the state becomes ever greater, militarism grows, and the "Military-State must become a mass producer" --- a warning, that a few decades later President Eisenhower would give the name "military-industrial complex.")

... [Burckhardt schilderte] das Aufkommen von "terribles simplificateurs," von großen Verführern des öffentlichen Meinung.
(... [Burckhardt described] the emergence of "terrible simplifiers," of major deceivers of public opinion.)

Burckhardt sah in "Erwerb und Verkehr" das verheerende Ende des Schöpferischen, unabhängigen Menschseins, die Unterdrückung des geistigen Lebens durch den allmächtigen Kommerzialismus.
(Burckhardt saw in "acquisition and trade" the catastrophic end of the creative, independent human being, the suppression of intellectual life by all-powerful commercialism.)

[Burckhardt schrieb:] "Vor 100 Jahren waren alle sonstigen Lebensverhältnisse viel stetiger und einfacher; man wußte: in diesem Hause, das Dir gehört und das Du nach Belieben mit Büchern und Sammlungen anfüllen kannst, wirst Du, wenn nichts Absonderliches eintritt, in 30-40 Jahren sterben, nun nimm einen vernünftigen Anlauf. Wer kann das jetzt noch sagen? ..."
([Burckhardt wrote:] "100 years ago all other living conditions were much steadier and simpler; one knew that: in this house, that belongs to you and that you can fill with books and collections according to your tastes, you will die in 30-40 years if nothing out of the ordinary happens, so pursue a rational approach to life. Who can say that now? ...")

Der Krieg zersetze, so Freud, alle gängigen Wahrheiten und Gepflogenheiten. Der kriegführende Staat mache sich zum Beispiel, indem er systematisch lüge und betrüge, zum Urheber all jener Verbrechen, für die er sonst seine Bürger bestrafe. ...
(War undermines, according to Freud, all current truths and customs. The warfaring state makes itself, for example in that it systematically lies and deceives, into the originator of all those crimes for which it otherwise punishes its citizens.)

... Vertrauen ... [hat] der Philosoph John Dunn zu Recht [bezeichnet] als das notwendige Element jeder Demokratie.
(... trust ... was correctly described by the philosopher John Dunn as the essential element of every democracy.)

[Im 1919 Walter Gropius] ... der Gründer und erste Impulsgeber des Bauhauses ... schrieb seiner Mutter ... "die innere Reinigung durch den Krieg war ... nötig. ... Geistig idiotisiert und zermürbt aus dem furchtbaren Krieg heimkehrend stürtzte ich mich vor drei Monaten auf das geistige Leben..."
([In 1919 Walter Gropius] ... the founder and initial promoter of the Bauhaus movement ... wrote his mother ... "the inner cleaning through the war was ... necessary. ... Returning home from the terrible war spiritually idiotized and broken down, I plunged, three months ago, into intellectual life...")

[Yitzhak] Rabin beantwortete ... die Frage eines schwedischen Gesandten mit den Worten: "Nein, ich bin nicht bekehrt, ich bin überzeugt."
({Yitzhak] Rabin answered .. the question of a Swedish ambassador with the words: No, I am not converted, I am convinced.")

Der Geist Weimars sucht uns weiterhin heim, warnend vor der Macht brutalisierter Unvernunft in einer radikal entzweiten Gesellschaft.
(The spirit of Weimar continues to haunt us, warning of the power of brutalized irrationality in a radically divided society.)

[Edmund] Burke ... schrieb: "Ein Staat, dem es an allen Mitteln zu einer Veränderung fehlt, entbehrt die Mittel zu seiner Erhaltung.
([Edmund] Burke ... wrote: "A state, which does not have the means to change, lacks the means for its own preservation.)

Die Stimmen von Forschern, werden heute leicht übertönt von den Propagandisten, angesichts deren man sich Burckhardts Warnung vor den "terribles simplificateurs" erinnert.
(The voices of scholars are today easily drowned out by the propagandists, in view of which one is reminded of Burckhardt's warning of the "terrible simplifiers.")

Fritz Stern, from Dreams and Delusions: The Drama of German History

(My review of this book)

… history is not a science, ... it is an approximation of a time and space that we know not. (28)

Einstein underestimated the force of the irrational, of what the Germans call the demonic, in public affairs. (39)

By 1948 America was facing an unprecedented historic challenge: to assume --- more or less suddenly and by default --- world leadership while preserving and enlarging democratic practices at home. To reconcile global imperium and isolationist, democratic tradition was a gargantuan task that could never be mastered, only fitfully attended to. (222)

… some West Germans have come [in the mid-1980’s] to think that the GDR, that curious amalgam of old-fashioned, small-town life with socialist exhortation and drab austerity, is perhaps more “German” than the Americanized consumer society of Bonn. The appeal of austerity --- from a safe distance --- is still great. (230)

There is a picture, idyllic in the eyes of some, of the lonely scholar [of history], buried in the archives, reconstructing a past by dint of the critical sifting of surviving evidence, insulated from the storms outside, from passions inside. No doubt such scholars exist, but I doubt that there are many. (246)

… we might do well to ponder the paradox that one of the most valuable and insidious consequences of capitalism is anti-capitalism: valuable because of its reformist impulse, and insidious because beneath it often lurks a Utopian illusion that social evil springs from capitalism and that some, often nebulous, alternative would usher in a period of human brotherhood and goodness. (289)


Marcel Theroux

I was inspired by John Milton, who has a line in an essay he wrote, where he says that books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain the essence of the living intellect that bred them. In other words, that books are alive and that they've got the quintessence of the author inside them. And I think that everyone who loves books has experienced the feeling of being taken over by another mind. And I suppose one of the things I wanted to do in the book was celebrate the act of reading, which is such a mysterious, and not sufficiently remarked upon, transaction between two consciousnesses only one of which needs to be alive.
.............................. from interview on NPR’s Weekend Morning Edition on 8 February 2014 about his new book Strange Bodies.


Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, from The Professor and the Siren

(My review of this Book)

It took roughly a month for us to pass from topical observations --- always highly original but impersonal on his part --- to more indelicate subjects, which are after all the only ones that distinguish conversations between friends from those between mere acquaintances. (12)


Colin Tudge, from The Time Before History: 5 Million Years of Human Impact

... the agricultural systems of the [modern] world are not actually designed to feed people.


Miguel de Unamuno, from Tragic Sense of Life

(My review of this Book)
Man is said to be a reasoning animal. I do not know why he has not been defined as an affective or feeling animal. Perhaps that which differentiates him from other animals is feeling rather than reason. More often I have seen a cat reason than laugh or weep. Perhaps it weeps or laughs inwardly --- but then perhaps, also inwardly, the crab resolves equations of the second degree. (3)

[In Kant's Critique of Practical Reason] the existence of God is ... deduced from the immortality of the soul, and not the immortality of the soul from the existence of God. (4)

That which determines a man, that which makes him one man, one and not another, the man he is and not the man he is not, is a principle of unity [of our body and actions] and a principle of continuity [of our consciousness]. (7)

There are ... people who appear to think only with the brain ...; while others think with all the body and all the soul, with the blood, with the marrow of the bones, with the heart, with the lungs, with the belly, with the life. And the people who think only with the brain develop into definition-mongers; they become professionals of thought. (13)

If a philosopher is not a man, he is anything but a philosopher; he is above all a pendant, and a pendant is a caricature of a man. (13)

All knowledge has an ultimate object. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is, say what you will, nothing but a dismal begging of the question. (13)

Little can be hoped for from a ruler ... who has not at some time or other been preoccupied, even if only confusedly, with the first beginning and ultimate end of all things, and above all of man, with the "why" of his origin and the "wherefore" of his destiny. (14)

... man has not deduced the divine from God, but rather he has reached God through the divine. (138)

That there is a Supreme Being, infinite, absolute and eternal, whose existence is unknown to us, and who has created the Universe, is not more conceivable than that the material basis of the Universe itself, its matter, is eternal and infinite and absolute. (142)

And so deeply rooted in the depths of man's being is this vital need of living a world illogical, irrational, personal or divine, that those who do not believe in God, or believe that they do not believe in Him, believe nevertheless in some little pocket god or even devil of their own, or in an omen, or in a horseshoe picked up by chance on the roadside and carried about with them to bring them good luck and defend them from that very reason whose loyal and devoted henchmen they imagine themselves to be. (158)

... when love sees the fruition of its desire it becomes sad, for it then discovers that what it desired was not its true end ...; it discovers that its end is further on, and it sets out again upon its toilsome pilgrimage through life, revolving through a constant cycle of illusions and disillusions. (175)

Our doctrines are usually the means we seek in order to explain and justify to others and to ourselves our own mode of action. (230)

... a new Inquisition, that of science or culture, which turns against those who refuse to submit to its orthodoxy the weapons of ridicule and contempt. (266)


Jeff VanderMeer , from Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy

(My review of this book)

That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality. (72)

He thought about the silence of fishing on the lake as a child, the long pauses, what his grandpa might say to him in a hushed tone, as if they were in a kind of church. He wondered what he would do if he couldn’t find her. Would he go back, or would he melt into this landscape, become part of what he found here, try to forget what had happened before and become no more or less than the spray against the bow, the foam against the shore, the wind against his face? There was a comfort to this idea almost as strong as the urge to find her, a comfort he had not known for a very long time, and many things receded into the distance behind him, seemed ridiculous or fantastical, or both. Were, at their core, unimportant. (349)


Mario Vargas Llosa, from The War of the End of the World

... as Bakunin explained, society lays the groundwork for crimes and criminals are merely the instruments for carrying them out.
.............................. Galileo Gall in the novel The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa

Ever since I left politics, I almost always tell the truth.
.............................. The Baron of Canabrava in the novel The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa

The whole world suddenly seemed to him to be the victim of an irremediable misunderstanding.
.............................. The Baron of Canabrava in the novel The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa

[he] has inculcated upon his followers the belief that the republicans are advocates of slavery.  (A subtle way of teaching the truth, is it not?  For the exploitation of man by money owners, the foundation of the republican system, is no less a slavery that the feudal form.)
.............................. Galileo Gall in the novel The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa

Science is still only a candle faintly glimmering in a great pitch dark cavern.
.............................. Galileo Gall in the novel The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa


Juan Gabriel Vásquez, from The Sound of Things Falling

(My review of this Book)

... the alacrity and dedication we devote to the damaging exercise of remembering, which after all brings nothing good and serves only to hinder our normal functioning...

I imagined a city in which the streets, the sidewalks, gradually closed themselves off to us ... until eventually expelling us.

Experience, or what we call experience, is not the inventory of our pains, but rather sympathy we learn to feel for the pain of others.

... on her face a girl's skin met a mature and careworn women's expression: her face was like a party that everyone had left.

Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even depends on it. ... Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn't miss an appointment, it never has.

... thinking in the darkness is not advisable: things seem bigger or more serious in the darkness, illnesses more destructive, the presence of evil closer, indifference more intense, solitude more profound. That's why we like to have someone to sleep with ...

Juan Gabriel Vásquez
, from Reputations

(My review of this Book)

[He] had been devoured, like so many other figures, by the insatiable hunger of oblivion. (6)

Let the world stop spinning: that’s all he asked. That it would stop revolving, that everyone would be quiet. Yes, let there be a little silence. (64)


Ernst Wiechert, from The Simple Life (Das einfache Leben)

(My review of this book)

We spend our years like an idle tale that is told. [Psalm 90:9] (7)

Wir bringen unsere Jahre zu wie ein Geschwätz. [Psalm 90:9] (7)

...how dangerous it can be to unthinkingly condemn entire classes or ranks or professions, since we never really know more than a few individuals among them. (35)

...wie gefährlich es sei, ganze Klassen oder Stände oder Berufe leichthin abzuurteilen, da wir ja doch nie mehr als einzelne Menschen unter ihnen kennten. (35)

[His books:] On narrow boards in front of a wall darkened by the smoke of the stove, the Eternals stood and looked upon him, close and trusted, since for each of them he was a guest, and the gaze of his eyes was familiar to them, the careful movement with which he turned the pages, the inclination of his brow as his eyes followed them. (74ff)

[Seine Bücher:] Auf den schmalen Brettern vor der vom Herdrauch dunkel gewordenen Wand standen die Ewigen und sahen ihn an, nah und vertraut, denn bei ihnen allen war er zu Gast, und der Blick seiner Augen war ihnen bekannt, die sorgsame Bewegung, mit der er die Blätter umwendete, die Neigung der Stirn, mit der er ihnen nachsah. (74ff)

...how beautiful the world is, so beautiful that one’s chest aches. (74)

...wie schön die Welt ist, so schön, daß es in der Brust schmerzt. (74)

...so he could only read if he had worked during the day. Reading must be earned. (88)

...so könne er nur lesen, wenn er tagsüber gearbeitet habe. Man müsse sich das Lesen verdienen. (88)

...he considered that, based on a more mature insight, nothing more is given to man than --- in the small circle of his life --- to do the right thing and to take two or three people by the hand and let them watch how it is done. (103)

...er bedachte, daß bei reiferer Erkenntnis dem Menschen wohl nicht mehr gegeben sei, als in dem kleinen Umkreis seines Lebens das Rechte zu tun und zwei oder drei Menschen bei der Hand zu nehmen und sie zusehen zu lassen, wie man es tue. (103)

...they knew that the earth was well intentioned --- more so than people --- and that some other year would make up for what this one had missed. (152)

...sie wußten, daß die Erde gut gewillt war, mehr als die Menschen, und daß ein anderes Jahr einholte, was dieses versäumte. (152)

It seemed to him as though only now did he know what inner peace was, the deep breath of an existence that wanted and coveted nothing, that had nothing to regret and nothing to remember, that was not happy or sad like a human heart, but instead unfolded like the path of a star --- great, because it fulfilled a law, and good, because it was necessary. (198)

Es schien ihm, als wisse er nun erst, was Stille sei, der tiefe Atem eines Daseins, das nichts wollte und begehrte, nichts zu bedauern und sich an nichts zu erinnern hatte, das nicht fröhlich oder traurig war gleich einem menschlichen Herzen, sondern das abrollte wie eine Sternenbahn, groß, weil es ein Gesetz erfüllte, und gut, weil es notwendig war. (198)

Peace radiated from him as from all things complete, and it was more visible here [in nature] than in the human world that death was intertwined in life, as deeply intertwined as a network on a sphere, in which the horizon is not an end, but rather only the fleeting and ever changing border between the lit and the unlit, and everywhere it is always day and everywhere it is always night. (198)

Friede ging von ihm aus wie von allem Vollendeten, und sichtbarer als in der menschlichen Welt war hier, daß der Tod in das Leben verschlungen war, so tief verschlungen wie das Netzwerk auf einer Kugel, wo der Horizont kein Ende ist, sondern nur die flüchtige und immer wechselnde Grenze zwischen dem Beleuchteten und Unbeleuchteten, und überall ist immer Tag und überall ist immer Nacht. (198)

...the pendulum of the clock swung monotonously in the quiet [of the room], measured the hours, moved the clock hand forward and did not give back what it had measured. (200)

...das Pendel der Uhr ging eintönig durch die Stille [des Zimmers], maß die Stunden, ließ die Zeiger rücken und gab nicht zurück, was es gemessen hatte. (200)

And his thoughts became ever more fearless, and displayed ever more the tough and almost bitter compulsion to think a matter through to the end; not just up to the firm boundary walls of convention, tradition or piety, but instead out beyond that, very far beyond that even, as far as a thought could even walk before it collapsed at the edges of human reason and surrendered. (201ff)

Auch wurden seine Gedanken immer furchtloser und zeigten immer mehr den zähen und fast erbitterten Drang, eine Sache zu Ende zu denken, nicht nur bis in den festen Grenzsteinen des Herkömmlichen, der Tradition oder der Pietät, sondern darüber hinaus, ganz weit hinaus sogar, so weit, wie ein Gedanke überhaupt nur laufen konnte, ehe er an den Grenzen der menschlichen Vernunft niederfiel und sich ergab. (201ff)

The poor form [of his dead wife] passed away … and that which they call immortal remained in what is frail … in memory, in the reflection that her life left behind. ... but most of it would fade away like the sunset. One would know that she had been, and that people, animals and plants had welcomed her, but the dawn snuffed her out, and the new day covered her up. (220)

Die arme Form [seiner gestorbenen Frau] verging … und das, was sie unvergänglich nannten, blieb im Gebrechlichen … in Erinnerungen, in dem Widerschein, den ihr Leben zurückließ. … das meiste aber würde vergehen wie eine Abendröte. Man würde wissen, daß sie gewesen war, Menschen, Tiere und Pflanzen hatten sie empfangen, aber das Morgenrot löschte sie aus, und der neue Tag deckte sie zu. (220)

...I will find a different face [of God]. Not one that is to be beseeched, and not one that is to be thanked. Not one before whom people will begin shouting: “Now thank all ye God!”, if they have just beaten to death a thousand or ten thousand men. Because then must the others clearly be shouting: “Now curse all ye God.” (241)

...ich werde ein anderes Gesicht [Gottes] finden. Keines, das zu beschwören ist, und keines, dem zu danken ist. Keines, vor dem man anstimmen wird: ‚Nun danket alle Gott!‘, wenn man eben tausend oder zehntausend Menschen erschlagen hat. Denn dann müßten die anderen ja anstimmen: ‚Nun fluchet alle Gott!‘ (241)

It seemed to him a mistake that he strove to offer his thoughts to the world. The world could be moved by thoughts, but was it not like with the pendulum that one pushes with one’s hand out past its two rest points? The clock would certainly not be affected by what happened beyond those points, but rather only by what happened between them. (256)

Es schien ihm ein Fehler darin zu liegen, daß er danach trachtete, seine Gedanken der Welt darzubieten. Die Welt konnte von Gedanken bewegt werden, aber war es nicht wie mit einem Pendel, das man mit der Hand über die beiden Ruhepunkte hinaustrieb? Die Uhr wurde doch nicht von dem bewegt, was jenseits der Punkte lag, sondern nur von dem, was zwischen ihnen schwang. (256)

He knew so little. He wanted to work … until his body gently reminded him that this part of his life is declining. And then he wanted to read. His spirt would still be fresh --- hungry for all of the insights that mankind had ever attained. (257 ff)

Er wußte so wenig. Er wollte arbeiten … bis der Körper leise mahnte, daß dieser Teil seines Lebens sich schon neige. Und dann wollte er lesen. Sein Geist würde noch frisch sein, hungrig nach allen Erkenntnissen, die der Mensch jemals gewonnen hatte. (257 ff)

The more tired the hand, the clearer the life. (322)

Je müder die Hand, desto klarer das Leben. (322)


Edward O. Wilson, from The Meaning of Human Existence

(My review of this book)

… does free will exist? Yes, if not in ultimate reality, then at least in the operational sense necessary for sanity and thereby for the perpetuation of the human species. (170)


From The Golden Lotus (Jin Ping Mei), translated by Clement Egerton

(My review of this Book)

A warrior of stature not to be despised
At times a hero and at times a coward.
Who, when for battle disinclined,
As though in drink sprawls to the east and west.
But, when for combat he is ready,
Like a mad monk he plunges back and forth
And to the place from which he came returns.
Such is his duty.
His home is in the loins, beneath the navel.
Heaven has given him two sons
To go wherever he goes
And, when he meets an enemy worthy of his steel,
He will attack, and then attack again.

Tender and clinging, with lips like lotus petals
Yielding and gentle, worthy to be loved.
When it is happy, it puts forth its tongue
And welcomes with a smile.
When it is weary, it is content
To stay where Nature put it
At home in Trouser Village
Among the scanty herbage.
But, when it meets a handsome gallant
It strives with him and says no word.

Good news never leaves the house, but ill news spreads a thousand miles.

Beautiful is this maiden; her tender form gives promise of sweet womanhood,
But a two-edged sword lurks between her thighs, whereby destruction comes to foolish men.
No head falls to that sword: its work is done in secret,
Yet it drains the very marrow from men's bones.

When we behave with proper decorum, people will do what they are told without our having to go to extremes, but, if we do not so behave, they will not obey, however severe our orders.

A beautiful woman's lot is grievous.
Alas, that one so exquisite
Should turn to a handful of yellow dust.
Is it that Heaven pays no heed,
That good and evil are but matters of chance?
It granted her beauty and intelligence
Then let her go as though she had been nothing.
It seems unjust.
And when we ask the Heavens why it happens,
No answer is vouchsafed us.
It is sad.
The beauty of the earth combined with Heaven's fragrance
Passes like the seasons.
They are many who lie buried.
May we not ask where there is gaiety?
Yet there are palaces where people dance and sing,
Where people walk in springtime on the purple path,
And, in the evening, sit beside green-painted windows,
Graceful and exquisite.
Surely the life of man seems purposeless
Now as in the days long past.

... Spring ... there is no season more delightful. Then the sun is beautiful and the wind gentle, as the eyes of the willow open and the hearts of the flowers are unfolded. The very earth seems perfumed. A myriad flowers seem to compete with each other for the prize of beauty; the herbs put forth new shoots. They are the message of Spring. The light is soft and bright; the scenery warm and perfectly harmonious. The little peach flowers have painted their faces a deep red; the young willows bend their slender waists, tender and narrow as the palace gates. Orioles sing a hundred melodies, and wake people from their midday dreams. Purple swallows sing, and the melancholy of early spring is banished. The sun makes the days longer and warmer, and the little yellow ducks splash in the pools. Through the duckweed they dash.


Marguerite Yourcenar, from Memoirs of Hadrian

My purpose was simply to diminish that mass of contradictions and abuses which eventually turn legal procedure into a wilderness where decent people hardly dare venture, and where bandits abound.

I was wrong to forget that in any combat between fanaticism and common sense the latter has rarely the upper hand.

It was indeed vain to hope for an eternity for Athens and for Rome which is accorded neither to objects nor men, and which the wisest among us deny even to the gods.  ...  Our feeble efforts to ameliorate man's lot would be but vaguely continued by our successors; the seeds of error and of ruin contained even in what is good would, on the contrary, increase to monstrous proportions in the course of centuries.

The lover of beauty ends by finding it everywhere about him, a vein of gold in the basest of ores.


Howard Zinn, from A People's History of the United States

The easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all) --- that is still with us.

[President Grover Cleveland, Democrat, assuring industrialists after his election in 1884:]
"No harm shall come to any business interest as the result of administrative policy so long as I am president ... a transfer of executive control from one party to another does not mean any serious disturbance of existing conditions."

[President McKinley, shortly before the Spanish-American War:] "I am glad to know that the people of this country mean to maintain the financial honor of the country as sacredly as they maintain the honor of the flag."

Several years after the Cuban war [1898], the chief of the Bureau of Foreign Commerce of the Department of Commerce wrote about that period: "Underlying the popular sentiment, which might have evaporated in time, which forced the United States to take up arms against Spanish rule in Cuba, were our economic relations with the West Indies and the South American republics."

As Richard Hofstadter points out (The American Political Tradition): ... "[President] Wilson was forced to find legal reasons for policies [such as entering WW I] that were based not upon law but upon the balance of power and economic necessities."

In May of 1914 [President Wilson's Secretary of State] praised the President as one who had "opened the doors of all the weaker countries to an invasion of American capital and American enterprise."

[President Wilson] said "Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process."

In August 1945 a State Department officer said that "a review of the diplomatic history of the past 35 years will show that petroleum has historically played a larger part in the external relations of the United States than any other commodity."

[Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of State Cordell] Hull said early in [WW 2]: "[The U.S.] should assume this leadership ['toward a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs'], and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure national self-interest."

Charles E. Wilson, the president of General Electric Corp., was so happy about the [WW II economic] situation that he suggested a continuing alliance between business and the military for "a permanent war economy."

The business publication Steel had said in November 1946 ... that Truman's policies gave "the firm assurance that maintaining and building our preparations for war will be big business in the U.S. for at least a considerable period ahead."


Stefan Zweig
, from Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday)

(My review of this book)

… [in dem erseten halben der 20. Jahrhundert] bin ich Zeuge geworden der furchtbarsten Niederlage der Vernuft und des wildesten Triumphes der Brutalität innerhalb der Chronik der Zeiten. (6)

(... [during the first half of the 20th century] I became a witness to the most terrible defeat of reason and the wildest triumph of brutality in the chronicles of time.)

… der Aufschwung zum Geistigen, die innere Griffkraft der Seele dagegen, übt sich einzig in jenen entscheidenen Jahren der Formung, und nur wer früh seine Seele weit augzuspannen gelernt, vermag später die ganze Welt in sich zu fassen. (50)

(... the impetus to the spiritual against the powerful grasp of the soul only takes place in those decisive years of molding, and only he who early on learns to open widely his soul, will later be able to comprehend the whole world.)

[Rainer Maria Rilke auswich] jedem Lärm und sogar seinem Ruhm --- dieser >Summe aller Mißverständnisse, die sich um seinen Namen sammeln<, wie er einmal so schön sagte --- (105)

([Rainer Maria Rilke evaded] that noise and even his fame --- this "amount of miss-understandings that accumulate around his name" as he once so nicely put it ...)

»Sie erschöpfen mich, diese Menschen, die ihre Empfindungen wie Blut ausspeien«, sagte [Rilke] mir einmal, »und Russen nehme ich darum nur mehr wie Likör in ganz kleinen Dosen zu mir.« (105)

("They weary me, these people who spew out their feelings like blood," said [Rilke] to me once, "and Russians for that reason I now only take in like liquor, in very tiny doses.")

Es war die ganze Ehrlichkeit und Redlichkeit und zugleich Kleinlichkeit eines in seinem Geschäft gestörten Kleinburgers, die da explodierte … (113)

(It was the whoe sincerity and honesy and at the same time small-mindedness of a petit bourgeois distrubed in his business that exploded there...)

… ich bekenne mich zu Goethes Wort, daß man die großen Schöpfungen, um sie ganz zu begreifen, nicht nur in ihrer Vollendung gesehen, sondern auch in ihrem Werden belauscht haben muß. (119)

(... I bear witness to Goethe's word, that in order to understand in its entirety the whole of creation, one must not only see it in its completion, but must also have listened in on its becoming.)

Und vielleicht bin ich selbst wiederum schon die letzte, der heute sagen darf: ich habe eninen Menschen gekannt, auf dessen Haupt noch Goethes Hand einen Augenblick zärtlich geruht. (121)

(And perhaps I myself on the other hand am the last one still able to say this today: I knew a person over whose skin Goethe's hand passed tenderly for a moment.)

Veränderte Distanz von der Heimat verändert das innere Maß. Manches Kleinliche, das mich früher über Gebühr beschäftigt hatte, begann ich nach meiner Rückkehr als kleinlich anzusehen und unser Europa längst nicht mehr als die ewige Achse unseres Weltalls zu betrachten. (133)

(Changing the distance from one's homeland changes one's inner standards.  Many little things, that earlier occupied me excessively, I began after my return to look upon as narrow-minded, no longer regarding our Europe as the eternal axis of the universe.)

So gewaltig, so plötzlich brach diese Sturzwelle [des ersten Weltkrieges] über die Menschheit herein, daß sie, die Oberflache überschäumend, die dunklen, die unbewußten Urtriebe und Instinkte des Mensch-tiers oben riß, das, was Freud tiefsehend »die Unlust an der Kultur nannte,« das Verlangen, einmal aus der bürgerlichen Welt der Gesetze und Paragraphen auszubrechen und die uralten Blutinstinkte auszutoben. (159)

(So violently, so suddenly did this tsunami [of the First World War] befall mankind, that, bubbling over the surface, it roused the dark, the unknown base drive and instinct of the human animal, that which Freud with deep understanding called "the lack of enthusiasm for culture", the drive to for once break out of the bourgeois world of laws and rules, and let loose the ancient blood-lust.)

Hier konnte ich für mich arbeiten und die Zeit nützen, die unterdes unerbittlich ihren Gang ging. (197)

(Here I could work for myself, and  make use of the time that meanwhile went its merciless way.)

Innerhalb meiner Arbeit ist mir die des Weglassens eigentlich die vergnüglichste. [ff] (225)

(Within my writing, the most useful for me is actually the act of leaving out.)

Keinen schlimmeren Fluch hat die Technik über uns gebracht, als daß sie uns verhindert, auch nur für einen Augenblick der Gegenwart zu entfliehen. (278)

(No worse curse has technology brought down upon us, than that it hinders us from, even for a moment, escaping the present.)

… ein exilierter Russe [hat mir] gesagt: »Früher hatte der Mensch nur einen Körper und eine Seele. Heute braucht er noch einen Paß dazu, sonst wird er nicht wie ein Mensch behandelt.« (285)

(... an exiled Russian said to me: "Earlier a person had only their body and their soul.  Now they also need to have a passport, otherwise they won't be treated as a person.")

… wann vermag Vernuft etwas wider das eigene Gefühl! (287)

(... when will reason be capable of going against one's own feeling!)



The common excuse of those who bring misfortune on another is that they desire their good.
.............................. Vauvenargues, quoted in The Oxford Book of Aphorisms"

Does it really matter what these affectionate people do, so long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses?
.............................. Attributed to Mrs. Patrick Campbell (1865-1940)

The moment when an instant can be a life.
.............................. Japanese author (?), on a radio program

Buff, delighted by his [friend's] mini-skirted publicist, turns into a sort of June bug, happily splattering himself against the windshield of her sex appeal.
.............................. Stuart Klawans, in a review of the movie subUrbia in The Nation, 3 March 1997

Someday perhaps someone will speak with absolute sincerity about all the things he has felt, and the world will be astounded to find that most of its maxims and observations are mistaken, and that there is an unknown soul at the center of that soul about which all the stories are told.
.............................. Germaine de Stael, French Author, 1766-1817

To Satch
Sometimes I feel like I will never stop
Just go on forever
Till one fine mornin'
I'm gonna reach up and grab me a hand fulla stars
Throw out my long lean leg
And whip three hot strikes burnin' down the heavens
And look over at God and say
How about that!
.............................. Samual Allen, 1963

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?
.............................. Satchel Paige, when asked his age

Counting the seconds between searing light and deafening sound will give you an idea of how close the [lightning] strike is, but when your ears start ringing the number of seconds becomes a moot point.
.............................. Pete Bengeyfield, in Mountains and Mesas"

Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.
.............................. Plato, in The Republic"

And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
to live beneath your more habitual sway.
I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
the innocent brightness of a newborn Day
    Is lovely yet;
The clouds that gather round the setting sun
do take a sober coloring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to it tenderness, its joys, and fears,
to me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
.............................. William Wordsworth, Final 2 Stanzas from: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"

One of the more piquant revelations from [A World Transformed by George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft] is that Bush's most famous foreign policy saga, the fight to oust Iraq from Kuwait, was basically a tale about oil, just as skeptics said at the time.  As Scowcroft himself writes at one point, the reason for the US action there was foremost to insure "that no hostile regional power could hold hostage much of the world's oil supply."  ... [Bush] writes that he was prepared to do battle with Saddam Hussein even if he had only one vote in Congress...
.............................. Stephen Schlesinger; book review in The Nation

In a word, every man for his own ends. Our Summum bonum is commodity, and the goddess we adore Dea Moneta, Queen Money, to whom we daily offer sacrifices, which steers our hearts, hands, affections, all: that most powerful goddess, by whom we are reared, depressed, elevated, esteemed, the sole commandress of our actions for which we pray, run, hide, go, come, labor and contend as fishes do for  a crumb that falleth into the water. It is not worth, virtue, wisdom, valour, learning, honesty for which we are respected but money, greatness, office, honour, authority.
.............................. Robert Burton, from Anatomy of Melancholy

God will understand, my lord, and if he does not, then he is not God, and we need not worry.
.............................. Balian, a blacksmith turned knight who is leading the troops of a Jerusalem under siege by Saladin, as he prepares to burn the dead to prevent disease from spreading. He is replying to the Bishop of Jerusalem who is trying to stop him, saying that God will consider it a sin. From The Kingdom of Heaven , a fictional movie about the Crusades.

...given the state of things, staying alive is something a reasonable person might have to be talked into.
.............................. Maria Russo, in a NY Times Book Review of Reasons For and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peele

If they go in there and do their work and all goes according to plan we'll conclude it was relatively straightforward. If they all end up dead, we'll conclude it was very hazardous.
.............................. John Pike, Director Space Policy Project of the Fed. of Amer. Scientists, on Mir repair work.

Be careful what you get good at doin' 'cause you'll be doin' it the rest of your life.
.............................. Gabrielle Hamilton, as quoted in the New York Times from her book Blood, Bones & Butter.

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.
.............................. Anna Quindlen, in the New York Times, 7 August 1991

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