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Joined: 25 Feb 2004 02:18
Posts: 191
Location: austin, tx
"Human beings are not reasonable, and do not to any decisive degree prefer the agreeable to the disagreeable. Only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set life back to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations. Our bright natures fight with us in this yeasty darkness, and neither part is commonly quite victorious, for we are divided against ourselves and will not let either part be destroyed. This fight can be observed constantly in our personal lives. There is nothing rarer than a man who can be trusted never to throw away happiness, however eagerly he sometimes grasps it. In history we are as frequently interested in our own doom. Sometimes we search for peace, sometimes we make an effort to find convenient frontiers...but sometimes we insist on war, sometimes we stamp into the dust the only foundations on which we can support our national lives. We ignore this suicidal strain in history because we are consistently bad artists when we paint ourselves, we prettify our wills and pretend they are not parti-coloured before the Lord."

- Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

22 Jan 2010 22:12
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Joined: 04 Jun 2008 23:37
Posts: 54
Location: Seattle, WA
Not to reduce the thing to nothing--

I might at the top of my ability to stand at a window
and say, look out; out there is the world.

Not the desire for approval nor even for love--O,
that trap! From which escaped, barely—if it fails

we will produce no sane man again

(George Oppen, from Route)

Ask yourself: will anyone return? Having left the straight
and narrow path, and not for heaven, we bring to light
things in which there lives destruction and the power
to scatter us to the wind. All this is proof
of nothing and which no one wants. For when you kindle
the fire anew, we will appear unrecognizable

(Ingeborg Bachmann from Proof of Nothing)


23 Jan 2010 01:09
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 14:00
Posts: 162
Location: London
The Nazi within me thinks it's time to take charge.
The world's a mess; people are crazy.
The Nazi within me wants windows shut tight,
new locks put on the doors. There's too much
fresh air, too much coming and going.
The Nazi within me wants more respect. He wants
the only TV camera, the only bank account,
the only really pretty girl. The Nazi within me
wants to be boss of traffic and traffic lights.
People drive too fast; they take up too much space.
The Nazi within me thinks people are getting away
with murder. He wants to be the boss of murder.
He wants to be boss of bananas, boss of white bread.
The Nazi within me wants uniforms for everyone.
He wants them to wash their hands, sit up straight,
pay strict attention. He wants to make certain
they say yes when he says yes, no when he says no.
He imagines everybody sitting in straight chairs,
people all over the world sitting in straight chairs.
Are you ready? he asks them. They say they are ready.
Are you ready to be happy? he asks them. They say
they are ready to be happy. The Nazi within me wants
everyone to be happy but not too happy and definitely
not noisy. No singing, no dancing, no carrying on.

-- Stephen Dobyns, Confession

25 Jan 2010 17:52

Joined: 08 Sep 2008 19:25
Posts: 201
Location: Geneseo
"Acts have their being in the witness. Without him who can speak of it? In the end one could even say that the act is nothing, the witness all. [...]If the world was a tale who but the witness could give it life? Where else could it have its being?"
Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

Such a beautiful little quote, from what might be my favorite book by my favorite author. The "If the world was a tale" line was actually my yearbook quote. :D


25 Jan 2010 20:45
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Joined: 04 Jun 2008 23:37
Posts: 54
Location: Seattle, WA
"Implicit in Sebald’s work is the idea that human mass murder is only an internecine form of the holocaust we are perpetrating on the natural world. It is there in The Rings of Saturn where the description of the destruction of the European fisheries is juxtaposed with a double-page photograph of the naked bodies of the Nazis’ victims lying among trees. It is there in The Emigrants where Manchester is described as a “necropolis or mausoleum”; in Vertigo also, when the vehicles crawling along the gleaming black roads out of Innsbruck are imagined as “the last of an amphibian species close to extinction”. Encrypted in almost every line of After Nature we find the same message: “Cities phosphorescent / on the riverbank, industry’s / glowing piles waiting / beneath the smoke trails / like ocean giants for the siren’s / blare, the twitching lights / of rail- and motorways, the murmur / of the millionfold proliferating molluscs, / woodlice and leeches, the cold putrefaction”. "

from Will Self's recent lecture on W. G. Sebald (published in the Times Online:


15 Feb 2010 12:40
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Joined: 21 Feb 2010 08:24
Posts: 5
The vastest things are those we may not learn.
We are not taught to die, nor to be born,
Nor how to burn
With love.
How pitiful is our enforced return
To those small things we are the masters of.

(Mervyn Peake)

15 Mar 2010 06:53

Joined: 14 Jan 2007 14:00
Posts: 162
Location: London
spacegirl, I'll see your Mervyn Peake and raise you one:

Once there were islands all a-sprout with palms: and coral reefs, and sands as white as milk. What is there now but a vast shambles of the heart? Filth, squalor and a world of little men.

-- Titus Alone

21 Mar 2010 18:41

Joined: 03 Aug 2004 18:01
Posts: 160
Location: Durham NC
The other day I realized that it's almost April, which is National Poetry Month, and there is a delightful blog about to come back to life, a blog which posts a poem a day for the month. I went looking back through older postings and came across this one, and I can't stop reading it.

From Blossoms
Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


29 Mar 2010 09:08
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Joined: 03 Aug 2004 18:01
Posts: 160
Location: Durham NC
Yesterday I got my eager little hands on a copy of the new Arthur Russell biography Hold On To Your Dreams; I spent all last evening with my nose in it, and found this passage really striking:

"There was something beautiful about Russell's reluctance to decide on a final mix for many of his works. Playing, recording, and mixing amounted to a process of possibility, with every route a choice almost too tempting to resist, and the step of deciding on a final version -- when a song would become static and therefore experience a form of death -- often too painful to take. Instead Russell preferred to see music as a process that could reproduce itself in infinite ways and, in so doing, hint at the complexity and innate possibility of the universe."


01 Apr 2010 10:59
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Joined: 18 Jul 2006 14:24
Posts: 60
Location: southern Calif.
"Above the comforts of Base Camp, the expedition in fact became an almost Calvinistic undertaking. The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I'd been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium, and suffering, it struck me that most of were seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace."

~Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

I've read this book numerous times (it's something of a little tradition for me to read it when I travel to see Shearwater actually) but that passage really struck me this week. I was trying to get from one show to another and wondering why I was putting myself through such a grueling, expensive, stressful "vacation" when I read that and it just clicked. Not that following a band around on tour is literally anything like scaling Mount Everest, but enduring trials in search of a transcendent experience is certainly not exclusive to mountain climbing.

30 Apr 2010 21:18
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Joined: 14 Jan 2007 14:00
Posts: 162
Location: London
Because a friend, when I played her Rooks, gasped, "The end of the world never sounded so good!"

Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A Fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through fields under their umbrellas
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet,
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world there will be,
No other end of the world there will be.

-- Czeslaw Milosz

(Via. "By the way, you're soaking in it.")

30 Jun 2010 04:08

Joined: 25 Jan 2012 15:05
Posts: 22
Daniel Kahneman as a social scientist is not a writer on the order of some of these folks, but I am reminded of his work on the experiencing self and the remembering self in part 5 of his recent summary account (a bulky, bestseller summary), _Thinking, Fast and Slow-.

23 Mar 2012 15:26
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