Thursday, September 17, 2009

A conjunction of quotations #6

— edited by Ryland Walker Knight

hold it in your hand
Tropical Malady

To light a candle is to cast a shadow.
Ursula K Le Guin

One had a lovely face
And two or three had charm,
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.
W.B. Yeats

But in Monkey Business the enemy has crept into man himself: the subtle poison of the Fountain of Youth, the temptation of infantilism. This we have long known to be one of the less subtle wiles of the Evil One — now in the form of a hound, now in the form of a monkey — when he comes up against a man of rare intelligence. And it is the most unfortunate of illusions which Hawks rather cruelly attacks: the notion of adolescence and childhood as barbarous states from which we are rescued by education. The child is scarcely distinguishable from the savage he imitates in his games: and a most distinguished old man, after he has drunk the precious fluid, takes delight in imitating a chimp. One can find in this a classical conception of man, as a creature whose only path to greatness lies through experience and maturity; at the end of his journey, it is his old age which will be his judge.
Jacques Rivette

No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the boy. I have you.
Cormac McCarthy

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.

Just fucking do it! Otherwise you'll find yourself in some medieval war zone in the Caucasus with your arse in the air, trying to persuade a group of men in balaclavas that sustained sexual violence is not the fucking way forward!
Malcolm Tucker

You don't let somebody lie when you know they're lying; you call them a liar!
George Costanza

It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most un-teachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. Look once more at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Antony and Cleopatra; poems lovelier than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy. Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady's reputation. For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid.
Virginia Woolf

We live today in a world where most of the really important developments in everything from math and physics and astronomy to public policy and psychology and classical music are so extremely abstract and technically complex and context-dependent that it’s next to impossible for the ordinary citizen to feel that they (the developments) have much relevance to her actual life. Where even people in two closely related sub-sub-specialties have a hard time communicating with each other because their respective s-s-s’s require so much special training and knowledge. And so on. Which is one reason why pop-technical writing might have value (beyond just a regular book-market $-value), as part of the larger frontier of clear, lucid, unpatronizing technical communication. It might be that one of the really significant problems of today’s culture involves finding ways for educated people to talk meaningfully with one another across the divides of radical specialization. That sounds a bit gooey, but I think there’s some truth to it. And it’s not just the polymer chemist talking to the semiotician, but people with special expertise acquiring the ability to talk meaningfully to us, meaning ordinary schmoes. Practical examples: Think of the thrill of finding a smart, competent IT technician who can also explain what she’s doing in such a way that you feel like you understand what went wrong with your computer and how you might even fix the problem yourself if it comes up again. Or an oncologist who can communicate clearly and humanly with you and your wife about what the available treatments for her stage-two neoplasm are, and about how the different treatments actually work, and exactly what the plusses and minuses of each one are. If you’re like me, you practically drop and hug the ankles of technical specialists like this, when you find them. As of now, of course, they’re rare. What they have is a particular kind of genius that’s not really part of their specific area of expertise as such areas are usually defined and taught. There’s not really even a good univocal word for this kind of genius—which might be significant. Maybe there should be a word; maybe being able to communicate with people outside one’s area of expertise should be taught, and talked about, and considered as a requirement for genuine expertise.…
David Foster Wallace

Watching movies on a screen and then reading about them on the same screen is a depressing system to live under. Reading should be a respite from watching; it’s different from watching movies on a screen, even if movies are a form of writing, too. Movies should complement reading, and vice versa. Now they’re being collapsed into the same thing, into television, which makes them into work and not fun. Computers are what we stare into at work. I don’t want to be chained to a device like a heart patient or a rechargeable handyvac. One form should remain different from the other in order to comment on it productively, and that can’t happen if they’re both continuously dripped into us in the form of publicity.
A.S. Hamrah

We affirm that all sociological and institutional speculations about the audience for the arts must be abandoned. Sociology, and criticism itself, is only and always the auxiliary of Western democracy. Art should not have to worry about its clientele. It is inflexibly addressed to all, and this address has no empirical meaning. Art is made, says what it makes, makes what it says, according to its own discipline, and without consideration for the interests of anyone. This is what I call its proletarian aristocracy: an aristocracy exposed to the judgement of all. The great French director Antoine Vitez had a lovely expression to designate the art of the theatre. He said: “elitist for all.” “Proletarian” designates what, in each, through the discipline of work, belongs to generic humanity. “Aristocratic” designates what is protected, in each, from any evaluation by the average, the majority, similarity, or imitation.
Alain Badiou

Well you have to remember most movies are made for 16-year-old boys. Maybe that’s changing, but 16-year-old boys have truly had a poor education. Really the point is that people want to make too much money. If you want to make a movie that’s going to make a $100 million, you need all those 16-year-old boys and their dates. You have to start saying, “How do you think smaller?” ...

Let me ask you something. To simply actually stop. I’m just taking this “Your call is important to us” thing as an example because, having visited a large corporation, some executive is getting a $100 million a year and saving money not giving some woman a job for $30,000 a year. And he says we don’t want to take the shareholders’ money. And you say, well, you pay it, deduct it. But there’s no way to enforce that. We all know that that’s true, we all know that that’s bad, and we all know that there’s something about the tiny things in life happening to you that devalues you, that lessens you, that makes you numb. You have to become more and more numb not to get offended. ... But it seems to me, at some point what you really want to say is I won’t deal with a company that doesn’t have a real operator. For one day, I’ll make them lose that much money. For one day, I won’t go to a bookstore where the guy says, “Huh, I don’t know.” For one day I won’t say, it’s so hard. I won’t run home to a rerun of Cheers, I can’t bother with it. For one day, you’ll take the trouble to make trouble for someone else, because it’s the only thing that keeps you from getting sick, from sort of retreating. I think that’s what dumbing-down kind of is. It’s too much trouble. And there is such a thing as too much trouble. ...

So with all of that, you really do start with tiny crimes. I think they’re like crimes, they’re like little insults that you get all the time.
Elaine May

All of us are, by nature, wild beasts. Our duty as human beings is to become like trainers who keep their animals in check, and even teach them to perform tasks alien to their bestiality.
Ton Nakajima

The most careless girl in the class had the most exquisite body,
the constant proximity of which exhausted us,
not least because her awkwardness,
so unlike ours, manifested itself as a license
to kick off all consciousness of her limbs
like a branch one smacks out of one's face
in the woods in an act of defiance, almost contempt,
whose ironic outcome was the deepest inhabitation
of flesh I have ever seen. It was through her body
that I wanted to pass close to the bodies of the boys.
She would take me home with her and all but throw me
into the dark dynamics of her empty-seeming household,
which I felt to be hung with heavily stitched draperies
that concealed not only the rooms but the beings inside.
She took me there and spun me into her weird intimacy
in which my own self-consciousness was a pestering
insect— stupid, negligible. She would speak to people, to men,
to anyone in the streets and walk just as quickly off,
implicating me in the desire she aroused,
her uncontainability streaking through me a blazing
trail of lights from high in the whitest part of my head
down into my lungs, my entrails,
the part of me that wasn't breathing.
Erica Ehrenberg

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
George Eliot


  1. Yes! It's been too long since the last collection. This is great.

  2. Thanks, Ken, for reading! Glad these things tickle you.

  3. #9 describes my brother. He made me understand stuff like calculus and chess when I was 10 or 12. Greatest tutor in the world.

    There was a crazy ex-lawyer dude in my old neighborhood who rode around on a bicycle, did odd jobs and lived in somebody's attic. He told me with a sincerity I'll never forget, "There is genius in everybody."

    I never paid David Foster Wallace much attention, cuz I figured he was most definitely a specialist way outside my schmoe-level comprehension. This quote tells me he was in nobody's bubble, or tower. (I am aware that he spent some time in rehabs and halfway houses.) Beyond the chemical depression, looks like he was as troubled by false borders as that lawyer dude. Gotta sorta love him for that.

  4. "Gotta sorta love him for that." Indeed. Gotta totally love him for that. Further evidence of him being a real, true, really great _person_: his 1997 interview on Charlie Rose. So perfect. And Charlie Rose is so dumb/pompous.