Saturday, February 18, 2017

Showing, not telling...

"This time, as a token of his master's love, the messenger brought a handful of earth and a handful of salt, an ancient Bactrian custom that was observed persisting as late as the seventeenth century, according to the accounts of Tavernier and Chardin. But Arsaphes, driven by the obduracy of the princess and feeling victory within his grasp, added to the traditional offering two partridge eggs, one painted blue and the other red. The princess easily saw their significance, mysterious as it may seem to us. The colored eggs meant that though women may not look exactly alike, in the end they taste alike.
"Princess Heloise was worthy of the captain's admiration. She knew how to answer insolence. She sent back the lieutenant with two flasks which looked as though they contained water, but when Arsaphes tasted them, he found that while the first was indeed full of water, the second held the strongest and headiest rye brandy he had ever drunk. He then realized that while people may no doubt look alike, some are insipid and dull while others burn and intoxicate."
The Glory of the Empire, by Jean D'Ormesson, pg. 25

The other problem...

"The other problem with [Rikki Tikki Tavi]--not that there are any real problems with the story, it's a good story...but it's sad to think of such a likable mongoose eating holes in the baby cobra eggs. The baby cobras hadn't killed anything or frightened anyone. They would when they hatched out, because that's what cobra snakes are designed to do naturally. But a story should not have a small, tiny, curled-up barely alive animal be killed unless it has done a terrible thing, which it can't have done because it hasn't even uncurled itself from the egg. And the story isn't about what cobras do naturally, anyway, since it has cobras speaking. In real life they don't speak, at least in English. A cobra couldn't call itself 'Nag' or 'Nagaina' because the cobra's tongue is so thin it couldn't make an N sound. A cobra would probably call itself 'Lah,' if anything."
The Everlasting Story of Nory, by Nicholson Baker, pg. 36




Sunday, January 29, 2017

Two for the price of one...


"And if any such thing should occur, understand that I would hold all three of you equally guilty and would mete out my vengeance accordingly. She, he, and you."
"We would be four, madam. A man who has been warned is worth two ordinary men."
The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars, by Maurice Dekobra, pg. 95

Monday, December 19, 2016

By Crom!

"A phrase of his father's returned to him: you give a dog a bad name, and that dog is bad for life. ("Remember that, Joseph,"--with one hand on Pritchard's shoulder, and the other clasping a newborn puppy against his chest; the next day Pritchard dubbed the young thing Cromwell, and his father nodded once.)"

The Luminaries, by Elenor Catton, pg. 165

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Just because you can bring up Matthew Arnold doesn't mean you should

"...finally, it is said, he died by leaping into the crater of Etna to prove that he was a god. In the words of the [unknown] poet:

    'Great Empedocles, that ardent soul
    Lept into Etna, and was roasted whole.'

Matthew Arnold wrote a poem on this subject, but, although one of his worst, it does not contain the above couplet."

Bertrand Russell, "The History of Western Philosophy," pg. 53

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The more things change...


“The TRUMP movement (not party) is the strongest by far. Why? Because it takes advantage of the weakness of “those who blindly desire something different” using a revolutionary, amorphous mass of men who are both non-conscientious and irresponsible. On the other side, it takes advantage of the fear and greed of the grand bourgeoisie and turns that amorphous mass into armed bands against DEMOCRATS. It attracts all those who feel the weight of the OBAMA regime without being able to count upon themselves to transform it. It gives the illusion of force through violence; it gives the illusion of order through defending the family, private property and religion; it gives the illusion of protection with its promise of dignified comfort for all. Its fundamental character is inconsistency. Since it is the “reflection of the very inconsistency of the REPUBLICAN PARTY in their present circumstances,” its language is understandable to all those desperate men who flock to TRUMP: PUNDITS, the petite bourgeoisie of the city and country, almost all farm laborers, the majority of the unemployed in the cities, among whom are many adolescents. To the romantic young it offers the mirage of noble deeds, to the brutish the implied promise of beatings and killings. It promises high prices to the farmer, low prices to the consumer. In its substance, it is a nationalist fanaticism rooted in a feeling which the AMERICANS have experienced, whether they are right or wrong: the certainty that the capitalism of the victorious DEMOCRATS is crushing them much worse than REPUBLICAN capitalism.”

—paraphrase of Simone Weil's observations of 1932 Germany, with a few words updated for 2016, quoted from “Simone Weil: An Intellectual Biography” by Gabriella Fiori

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Inside an argument

"I was correcting her about my books: they did not have walls, they had holes dug deep in the earth."

 Renee Gladman, Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge

Friday, April 29, 2016

The upside of crazy ideas...

"It was not at all unusual in theoretical physics to spend a lot of time on a speculative notion that turns out to be wrong. I do it all the time. Having a lot of crazy ideas is the secret to my success. Some of them turned out to be right!"
Sheldon Glashow, Interactions, 1988, pg. 114

Monday, April 4, 2016

Terror, full agony of

"I was alarmed by so formidable a social occasion, but less alarmed than I had been a few months earlier when I was left tête-à-tête with Mr. Gladstone. ... As I was the only male in the household, he and I were left alone together at the dinner table after the ladies retired. He made only one remark: "This is a very good port they have given me, but why have they given me it in a claret glass?" I did not know the answer and wished the earth would swallow me up. Since then I have never again felt the full agony of terror."

Bertrand Russell, "Autobiography, Vol. 1"

Monday, March 28, 2016

Uncomfortable conversation...

Jason, "If You Steal," pg. ?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

An alternative to raking leaves...

"We have sometimes wondered where the idea came from to powder the leaves with snake essence, but after some fruitless speculation we have eventually concluded that the origin of customs, especially when they are useful and successful, is lost in the mists of time. One fine day the city must have realized that its population was inadequate for the collection of each year's leaf fall and that only the intelligent utilization of the mongooses, which abound in the country, could overcome this deficiency. Some functionary from the town bordering the forests must have noticed that the mongooses, completely indifferent to dead leaves, would become ravenous for them if they smelled of snake. It must have taken a long time to reach this conclusion, to study the reaction of the mongooses to the dead leaves, to powder the leaves so that the mongooses would go after them with a vengeance."


Julio Cortázar, "Around the Day in Eighty Worlds," pg. 77

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cortázar does Fluxus...

"THE SIMPLEST WAY TO DESTROY A CITY
Hidden in the grass, wait for a large cumulus cloud to drift over the hated city. Then shoot a petrifying arrow; the cloud will turn to stone and the consequences go without saying."

Julio Cortázar, "Around the Day in Eighty Worlds," pg. 7

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Why paintings are different...

"And then why La Tour, who painted the same painting twice, had him hiding an Ace of Diamonds in the Louvre, and an Ace of Clubs in the Kimbell Museum. That's correct, isn't it Pierre? I'm not mistaken?"

I joined in his game. One always had to sniff out the humour in my uncle's words.

"But, Uncle Charles, it's so that the museum curators can tell which is which."

Philippe Beaussant, "Rendezvous In Venice," pg. 64

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Butt of the joke...

"And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump."

--Michel Montaigne, quoted in Sarah Bakewell's "How to Live," pg. 148

Monday, March 7, 2016

Sad woman...

"She tries harder, this twenty-eight-year-old woman, to remember what it is to be happy, and with alarm she realizes she no longer knows, that it's like a foreign language she learned in childhood but has now forgotten, remembering only that she knew it once. When was the last time I was happy?"

--Stefan Zweig, "The Post-Office Girl," pg. 19

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Not a people person...

"Normal human beings are a balm to me, and a torment at the same time."

--Ludwig Wittgenstein, quoted in "Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein," letter 23 from 16.11.19, compiled by Paul Engelmann

"They are not human at all, but loathsome worms."

--Ludwig Wittgenstein, writing of the people of the small town of  Hassbach in same book, letter 48 from 14.9.22

Thursday, February 11, 2016

You are what you read...

"This is not to say, however, that the significance of all his remarks was always transparently clear; perhaps the most gnomic was his comment on Peter Geach, Elizabeth Anscombe's husband. When Mrs Bevan asked Wittgenstein what Geach was like, he replied solemnly: 'He reads Somerset Maugham.'"

--Ray Monk, "Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius," pg. 577

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Wittgenstein's fear

"The Oxford philosopher, John Mabbott, recalls that when he arrived in Nottingham to attend the conference he met at the student hostel a youngish man with a rucksack, shorts and open-neck shirt. Never having seen Wittgenstein before, he assumed that this was a student on vacation who did not know his hostel had been given over to those attending the conference. 'I'm afraid there is a gathering of philosophers going on in here', he said kindly. Wittgenstein replied darkly: 'I too.'"

-Ray Monk, "Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius," pg.275

Taunting Wittgenstein

"They [fellow grade school students] ridiculed him by chanting an alliterative jingle that made play of his unhappiness and of the distance between him and the rest of the school: 'Wittgenstein wandelt wehmütig widriger Winde wegen Wienwärts.' ('Wittgenstein wends his woeful windy way towards Vienna'). In his efforts to make friends, he felt, he later said, 'betrayed and sold' by his schoolmates."

-Ray Monk, "Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius," pg. 16

Monday, January 4, 2016

Cosmic visceral humming vs. world of bees...


"Later that night with Rosalie asleep from despair, he presumed, he went back into the tiny kitchen more windowless than ever and plastered his ear to the wall. No distinct sound, only a cosmic visceral humming, greater, far greater than the ploy of mere neighbors, as if the world were bees and nothing but. Overhead there was a brief, almost apologetic, scraping of what sounded like chair against tiled floor. He shrugged this away as beneath the contempt of his vigilance. Beyond this scraping there was no message, as from a beyond, on how to go about proving the yet-to-be fabled potency of his vocation was more than a hyposecretion of sebaceous glands. Of course the scraping of chair could mean: You have to think of more than yourself, there’s Rosalie and the child in her belly. But the scraping could also mean: Don’t bother demeaning yourself through exertion."
-Michael Brodsky, XMAN, pg 131

Thursday, December 31, 2015

In praise of boy art...

"Only with Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, was there a sudden flood of fully-realized sexual--especially homoerotic--art. Not since antiquity had "boy art" been realized with such assurance."
-Colin Eisler, "O Caravaggio" chapter in "Masterworks in Berlin: a City's Painting Reunited"

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The importance of cleaning book shelves...

"I entered one of the narrow aisles. For a while I proceeded in darkness, which was illuminated here and there by the glow of putrefying books. I switched on my torch and let the beam wander over the bookshelves. In the damp air the pages of the books curled, swelled, frayed and turned to pulp, expanding and forcing the bindings outwards, tearing them and squeezing out through the holes. Covers were falling apart and leaves prolapsed from them, lolling out of the books like tired tongues, falling on the ground and mixing with leaves from other books, putrefying and forming a soaring pile of oozing, phosphorescent, malodorous compost, through which I had to force my way waist-deep at times. The wooden shelves on which the books stood cracked and twisted. In the putrefying insides of the books, in dark crannies between the leaves, seeds of plants became fixed and sprouted in the damp darkness, sinking their roots into the paper... What was most nauseating in these stuffy and fetid surroundings was not the realization that a strange accidental calamity was occurring with rampant nature devouring the fruits of the human spirit; what gave rise to increasing anxiety was rather the fact that the dreamlike transformation of books into dangerous and unemotional vegetation laid bare the malignant disease secretly festering in every book and every sign created by humans."
-Michal Ajvaj, "The Other City"

Ladies and gentlemen, this is magical realism:

"That was during the time the Greek ship arrived," she said. "It was a crew of madmem who made the women happy and didn't pay them with money but with sponges, living sponges that later on walked about the houses moaning like patients in a hospital and making the children cry so that they could drink the tears."
-Gabriel García Márquez, "The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother"

What happens at Sizzler stays at Sizzler...

“It is within my financial power to buy that place [Weight Watchers across the street], and to fill it with steaks, fill it with red steak, all of which I would and will eat. The door would under this scenario be jammed with a gnawed bone; not a single little smug psalm-singing baggy-skinned apostate from the cause of adiposity would be able to enter. They would pound on the door, pound. But the bone would hold. They’d lack the bulk to burst through. Their mouths and eyes would be wide as they pressed against the glass. I would demolish, physically crush the huge scale at the end of the brightly lit nave at the back of the place under a weight of food, The springs would jut out. Jut. What a delicious series of thoughts. May I see a wine list?”
-man trying to order 9 steaks in "The Broom of the System" by David Foster Wallace

goodbye to all that...

"Case endings will gradually free themselves from their demeaning position and shine once more in their ancient glory. Bit by bit they will separate themselves from the roots of nouns and become what they were at the beginning -- the invocation of demons. The roots of nouns will loose their significance and be pronounced more and more quietly, until they will eventually become extinct. All that will remain in language are the former endings and people will realize that all the rest is actually superfluous. All that will be heard in the quiet of the halls is the rustling of curtains in the draft and the dreadful names of demons that we now call declension endings."
-"The Other City" by Michal Ajvaz

a tyranny of reason?

"The trouble with coercion through reason, however, is that only the few are subject to it, so that the problem arises of how to assure that the many, the people who in their very multitude compose the body politic, can be submitted to the same truth. Here, to be sure, other means of coercion must be found, and here again coercion through violence must be avoided if political life as the Greeks understood it is not to be destroyed. This is the central predicament of Plato's political philosophy and has remained a predicament of all attempts to establish a tyranny of reason."
-Hannah Arendt, "What Is Authority?", 1958ish, collected in "Between Past and Future"