Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Use of Passions

Reason therefore will have us believe that there is but one passion; and that hope and fear, sorrow and joy are the motions or properties of love.

The Use of Passions, Jean Francois Senault

Bouvard and Pecuchet

On a horizon that receded further each day, they glimpsed things at once strange and wondrous. Admiring an old piece of furniture, they regretted not having lived at the time it was used, even though they knew absolutely nothing about the period. Certain names evoked images of countries that were all the more beautiful in that they could say nothing specific about them. Books whose titles were unintelligible to them seemed to contain untold mysteries. And, having more ideas, they suffered more acutely.

Bouvard and Pecuchet, Gustave Flaubert
Unfinished at his death in 1880

Friday, September 28, 2007

During an open practice for season-ticket holders in 2005, Robert Levy (a season-ticket holder) testified he witnessed Thomas placing his arm around Browne Sanders' shoulders and remarking, "it was distracting working with someone easy on the eyes" as an uncomfortable Browne Sanders pulled away. In Isiah's defense, he pulled the exact same routine with Rick Mahorn in 1989.
-Bill Simmons, ESPN


We are the old, dishonoured ones,
the broken husks of men.
Even then they cast us off,
the rescue mission left us here
to prop a child's strength upon a stick.
What if the new sap rises in his chest?
He has no soldiery in him,
no more than we,
and we are aged passed ageing,
gloss of the leaf shrivelled,
three legs at a time we falter on.
Old men are children once again,
a dream that sways and wavers
into the hard light of day.

Agamemnon, Aeschylus
Translated by Robert Fagles

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thoughts for the Times on War and Death

The individual in any given nation has a terrible opportunity to convince himself of what would occasionally strike him in peace-time -- that the state has forbidden to the individual the practice of wrongdoing, not because it desired to abolish it, but because it desires to monopolize it like salt and tobacco. The warring state permits itself every such misdeed, every such act of violence, as would disgrace the individual man. It practices not only the accepted strategems, but also deliberate lying and deception against the enemy; and this, too, in a measure which appears to surpass the usage of former wars. The state exacts the utmost degree of obedience and sacrifice from its citizens, but at the same time treats them as children by maintaining an excess of secrecy, and censorship of news and expressions of opinion that renders the spirits of those thus intellectually oppressed defenceless against every unfavourable turn of events and every sinister rumour. It absolves itself from the guarantees and contracts it had formed with other states, and makes unabashed confession of its rapacity and lust for power, which the private individual is them called upon to sanction in the name of patriotism.

"Thoughts for the Times on War and Death," Sigmund Freud

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sound and Symbol

The hearing of a melody is a hearing with the melody....It is even a condition of hearing melody that the tone present at the moment should fill consciousness entirely, that nothing should be remembered, nothing except it or beside it be present in consciousness....Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once....Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown.

"Sound and Symbol," Victor Zuckerkandl

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Void

Black Bird, by Arthur Gordon Pym.

'Twas upon a midnight tristful I sat poring, wan and wistful,
Through many a quaint and curious list full of my consorts slain -
I sat nodding, almost napping, till I caught a sound of tapping,
As of spirits softly rapping, rapping at my door in vain.
"'Tis a visitor," I murmur'd, "tapping at my door in vain -
Tapping soft as falling rain."

Ah, I know, I know that this was on a holy night of Christmas;
But that quaint and curious list was forming phantoms all in train.
How I wish'd it was tomorrow; vainly had I sought to borrow
From my books a stay of sorrow - sorrow for my unjoin'd chain -
For that pictographic symbol missing from my unjoin'd chain -
And that would not join again.

Rustling faintly through my drapings was a ghostly, ghastly scraping
Sound that with fantastic shapings fill'd my fulminating brain;
And for now, to still its roaring, I stood still as if ignoring
That a spirit was imploring his admission to obtain -
"'Tis a spirit now imploring his admission to obtain -"
Murmur'd I, "- but all in vain."

But, my soul maturinng duly, and my brain not so unruly,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your aquittal would I gain;
For I was in fact caught napping, so soft-sounding was your rapping,
so faint-sounding was your tapping that you tapp'd my door in vain -
Hardly did I know you tapp'd it" - I unlock'd it but in vain -
'twas dark without and plain.

Staring at that dark phantasm as if shrinking from a chasm,
I stood quaking with a spasm fracturing my soul in twain;
But my study door was still as untowardly hush'd and chill as,
Oh, a crypt in which a still aspiring body is just lain -
As a dank, dark crypt in which a still surprising man is lain -
Barr'd from rising up again.

All around my study flapping till my sanity was snapping,
I distinctly caught a tapping that was starting up again.
"Truly," said I, "truly this is turning now into crisis;
I must find out what amiss is, and tranquility obtain -
I must still my soul an instant and tranquility obtain -
For 'tis truly not just rain!"

So, my study door unlocking to confound that awful knocking,
In I saw a Black Bird stalking with a gait of proud disdain;
I at first thought I was raving, but it stalk'd across my paving
And with broad black wings a-waving did my study door attain -
Did a pallid bust of Pallas on my study door attain -
Just as if 'twas its domain.

Now, that night-wing'd fowl placating my sad fancy into waiting
On its oddly fascinating air of arrogant disdain,
"Though thy tuft is shorn and awkward, thou," I said "art not so backward
Coming forward, ghastly Black Bird wand'ring far from thy domain,
Not to say what thou art known as in thy own dusk-down domain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again".

Wondrous was it this ungainly fowl could thus hold forth so plainly,
Though, alas, it discours'd vainly - as its point was far from plain;
And I think it worth admitting that, whilst in my study sitting,
I shall stop Black Birds from flitting thusly through my door again -
Black or not, I'll stop birds flitting through my study door again -
What I'll say is, "Not Again!"

But that Black Bird, posing grimly on its placid bust, said primly
"Not Again", and I thought dimly what purport it might contain.
Not a third word did it throw off - not a third word did it know off -
Till, afraid that it would go off, I thought only to complain -
"By tomorrow it will go off," did I trustfully complain.
It again said, "Not Again".

Now, my sanity displaying stark and staring signs of swaying,
"No doubt," murmur'd I, "it's saying all it has within its brain;
That it copy'd from a nomad whom Affiction caus'd to go mad,
From an outcast who was so mad as this ghastly bird to train -
Who, as with a talking parrot, did this ghastly Black Bird train
To say only, `Not Again.'"

But that Black Bird still placating my sad fancy into waiting
For a word forthcoming, straight into my chair I sank again;
And, upon its cushion sinking, I soon found my spirit linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of Cain -
What this grim, ungainly, gahstly, gaunt, and ominous bird of Cain
Sought by croaking "Not Again."

On all this I sat surmising, whilst with morbid caution sizing
Up that fowl; its tantalising look burn'd right into my brain;
This for long I sat divining, with my pain-rack'd back inclining
On my cushion's satin lining with its ghastly crimson stain,
On that shiny satin lining with its sanguinary stain
Shrilly shouting, "Not Again!"

Now my room was growing fragrant, its aroma almost flagrant,
As from spirits wafting vagrant through my dolorous domain.
"Good-for-naught," I said, "God sought you - from Plutonian strands God brought you -
And, I know not why, God taught you all about my unjoin'd chain,
All about that linking symbol missing from my unjoin'd chain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

"Sybil!" said I, "thing of loathing - sybil, fury in bird's clothing!
If by Satan brought, or frothing storm did toss you on its main,
Cast away, but all unblinking, on this arid island sinking -
On this room of Horror stinking - say it truly, or abstain -
Shall I - shall I find that symbol? - say it - say it, or abstain
From your croaking, `Not Again'."

"Sybil!" said I, "thing of loathing - sybil, fury in bird's clothing!
God's radiant kingdom soothing all man's purgatorial pain,
Inform this soul laid low with sorrow if upon a distant morrow
It shall find that symbol for - oh, for its too long unjoin'd chain -
Find that pictographic symbol missing from its unjoin'd chain."
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

"If that word's our sign of parting, Satan's bird," I said, upstarting,
"Fly away, wings blackly parting, to thy Night's Plutonian plain!
For, mistrustful, I would scorn to mind that untruth thou hast sworn to,
And I ask that thou by morn tomorrow quit my sad domain!
Draw thy night-nibb'd bill from out my soul and quit my sad domain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

And my Black Bird, still not quitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On that pallid bust, still flitting through my dolorous domain;
But it cannot stop from gazing for it truly finds amazing
That, by artful paraphrasing, I such rhyming can sustain -
Notwithstanding my lost symbol I such rhyming still sustain -
Though I shan't try it again!

A Void, G_org_ P_r_c
Translation by G. Adair, 1994

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The mirror's reflection grows faint, or perhaps the face itself does, taking on an acrid, fastidious look like that of a cobwebbed old daguerreotype set by sentimental hands on a headstone. In the pupil of the eye tiny, swimming dots appear: they are rowboats steered by melancholy boatmen conveying luggage and traveler -- departing life -- from the shore to the vast old bark awaiting.

Sunflower, Gyula Krudy

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nobel Acceptance

I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Nobel Acceptance Speech, William Faulkner
December 10, 1950

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reflections of a Wise Man

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come
by those who come after them.

Ecclesiates 1:2-11

Saturday, September 15, 2007


To be hopeful in an artistic sense it is not necessary to think that the world is good. It is enough to believe that there is no impossibility of its being made so. If the flight of imaginative thought may be allowed to rise superior to many moralities current amongst mankind, a novelist who would think himself of a superior essence to other men would miss the first condition of his calling.

"Books," Joseph Conrad

Friday, September 14, 2007

Correspondence with his wife

I am not fooling myself with dreams of immortality, know how relative all literature is, don't have any faith in mankind, derive enjoyment from too few things. Sometimes these crises give birth to something worthwhile, sometimes they simply plunge one deeper into depression, but, of course, it is all part of the same thing.

Letter from Stefan Zweig to his wife Frederike
August 3, 1925

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lack of Character

For example, taking situationism [as a theory of personality] seriously might inhibit the experience of a certain unreserved love; the situationist might be less able to feel, as Wittgenstein put it, "absolutely safe" in a relationship. But the loss of such experiences is a cost people should be willing to pay. For the costs on the other side are greater: Commitment to globalism [of traits within personality] threatens to poison understandings of self and others with disappointment and resentment on the one hand and delusion and hero-worship on the other.

In fact, engaging situationism can enable loving relationships, because affection for others would not be contingent on conformity to unrealistic standards of character. With luck, a situationist tuning of the emotions could increase our ever-short supply of compassion, forgiveness, and fair-mindedness. And these are things that are worth having in greater abundance.

Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior, John M. Doris

Survival in Auschwitz

We have learnt that our personality is fragile, that it is much more in danger than our life; and the old wise ones, instead of warning us "remember that you must die," would have done much better to remind us of this great danger that threatens us.

Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

"For the Anniversary of My Death," W.S. Merwin

Art Class

While it is the m├ętier of middle-class intellectuals to propose intellectual, individual solutions to problems that are in fact social and collective, it must be acknowledged that these tensions rest on real social antagonisms. They relate to the vast inequality in the distribution of material -- and thus cultural and intellectual -- resources in the world. And the pressures they represent are therefore sure to grow more unmanageable until something changes materially. In this sense, what art needs is not a "new theory" at all, but rather new initiative in relating practically to the actual forces that affect it.

"Art Class," Ben Davis
August 24, 2007

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Nobel Acceptance

A writer talks of things that everyone knows but does not know that they know. To explore this knowledge, and to watch it grow, is a pleasurable thing; the reader is visiting a world at once familiar and miraculous. When a writer shuts himself up in a room for years on end to hone his craft - to create a world - if he uses his secret wounds as a starting point, he is, whether he knows it or not, putting a great faith in humanity. My confidence comes from the belief that all human beings resemble one another, that others carry wounds like mine - that they will therefore understand. All true literature rises from this childish, hopeful certainty that all people resemble one another. When a writer shuts himself up in a room for years on end, with this gesture he suggests a single humanity, a world without a center.

Speech to the Swedish Academy, Orhan Pamuk
December 11, 2006

Friday, September 7, 2007

Five by Kafka

A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.

Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.

By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.

It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Genius of Culture

If anyone wanted to imagine a genius of culture, what would the latter be like? He would manipulate falsehood, force, the most ruthless self-interest as his instruments so skilfully he could only be called an evil, demonic being; but his objectives, which here and there shine through, would be great and good. He would be a centaur, half beast, half an, with angel's wings attached to his head in addition.

Human, All too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Friedrich Nietzsche


This life is a perpetual chequer-work of good and evil, pleasure and pain. When in possession of what we desire, we are only so much the nearer losing it; and when at a distance from it, we live in expectation of enjoying it again.

We like so much to hear people talk of us and of our motives, that we are charmed even when they abuse us.

Marie de Sevigne
Letter dated September 22, 1680

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Heauton Timorumenos

Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto.

(I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me.)

Heauton Timorumenos, Publius Terentius Afer
(Terence, 195-159 BC)