Monday, September 14, 2015

Letter from Franz Kafka to Oskar Pollak

"Altogether, 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? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe." --Franz Kafka, 1904

A History of Reading

" 'Reading,' wrote Petrarch in one of his many letters, 'rarely avoids danger, unless the light of divine truth shines upon the reader, teaching what to seek and what to avoid.' This light (to follow Petrarch's image) shines differently on all of us, and differently also at the various stages of our lives. We never return to the same book or even to the same page, because in the varying light we change and the book changes, and our memories grow bright and dim and bright again, and we never know exactly what it is we learn and forget, and what it is we remember." --A History of Reading Alberto Manguel, 1996


"What my first books were to me -- to remember this I should first have to forget all other knowledge of books. It is certain that all I know of them today rests on the readiness with which I then opened myself to books; but whereas now content, theme and subject-matter re extraneous to the book, earlier they were solely and entirely in it, being no more external or independent of it than are today the number of its pages or its paper. The world that revealed itself in the book and the book itself were never to be divided. So with each book its content, too, its world, was palpably there, at hand. But equally, this content and this world transfigured every part of the book. They burned within it, blazed from it; located not merely in its binding or its pictures, they were enshrined in chapter headings and opening letters, paragraphs and columns. You did not read books through; you dwelt, abided between their lines and, reopening them after an interval, surprised yourself at the spot where you had halted." --"A Berlin Chronicle", in Reflections Walter Benjamin

Rocket and Lightship

"But then, the present is always lived ambiguously. It is only in retrospect that we begin to simplify experience into myth -- because we need stories to live by, because we want to honor our ancestors and our country instead of doubting them. Events give way to books and movies and television shows, gray becomes black and white, and in time the seeming clarity and monumentality of the past makes us feel shy, guilty, or resentful before it. The best history writing reverses this process, restoring complexity to our sense of the past, helping us to understand that the people who fought the war were as imperfect as ourselves. This requires objectivity, but it should not breed detachment." --Rocket and Lightship Adam Kirsch, 2015

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

"In Catholic dogma, the definition of noble work had mostly been limited to that done by priests in the service of God, with practical and commercial labour relegated to an entirely base category unconnected to the display of any specifically Christian virtues. By contrast, the Protestant worldview as it had developed over the sixteenth century attempted to redeem the value of everyday tasks, proposing that many apparently unimportant activities could in fact enable those who undertook them to convey the quality of their souls. In this schema, humility, wisdom, respect, and kindness could be practised in a shop no less sincerely than in a monastery." --Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 2009

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

"But then had come a transformation to which we were still the heirs, and of which Ariane was an exemplar. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the dominant catalyst for that feeling of the sublime had ceased to be nature. We were now deep in the era of the technological sublime, when awe could most powerfully be invoked not by forests or icebergs, but by supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. We were now almost exclusively amazed by ourselves." --Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 2009

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

"The great works of art have about them the quality of a reminder. They fix that which is fugitive: the cooling shadow of an oak on a windless, hot summer afternoon; the golden-brown tint of leaves in the early days of autumn; the stoical sadness of a bare tree glimpsed from a train, outlined against a heavy grey sky. At the same time, it is forgotten aspects of our own psyches to which paintings can seem mysteriously conjoined. It can be our unspolen longings that surprise us in the trees, and our adolescent selves that we recognize in the hazy tint of a summer sky." --Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 2009

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

"Nevertheless, no quayside can ever appear entirely banal, because people will always be miniscule compared to the great oceans and the mention of faraway ports will hence always bear a confused promise of lives unfolding there which may be more vivid than the ones we know here, a romantic charge clinging to names like Yokohama, Alexandria, and Tunis -- places which in reality cannot be exempt from tedium and compromise, but which are distant enough to support for a time certain confused daydreams of happiness." --Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 2009

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hegel on the Future of Art

How many of us would seriously place Rauschenberg besides Rembrandt, Cage besides Bach? Stepping into a museum or concert hall we enter an aesthetic church, a sublime and rather chilly necropolis, stretching back across time, where Leonardo and Van Gogh, Palestrina and Beethoven join frozen hands. Part of this attitude is an often almost religious reverence and respect, but also a certain indifference. We sense that what truly matters lies elsewhere. What needs preserving does so precisely because it has lost its place in our world and must therefore be given a special place -- often at great expense.

Karsten Harries, "Hegel on the Future of Art"

The End of Art

[Post-aesthetic art] must be swallowed raw -- in post-aesthetic art the idea is raw and intellectually and emotionally undigested, and there is little or no art. Nuance and subtlety are expendable; the message is all, and it is ultimately a self-righteous one, calling for a new conformity and simplicity in its conception of the social truth. Indeed, the simpler the message the better, for a simple message is easier to communicate to the masses than a dialectically complex one. Ideas become slogans -- banner headlines -- in ideological art, if it can still be called art. For it seems more like a poor cousin of the mass media, lacking both their slickness and outreach. Indeed, the point is to be as "artless" as possible, for art, after all, is a distracting illusion appealing to the senses not the revolutionary-minded.

Donald Kuspit, The End of Art