Tag Archives: Quotes

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa


From The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa:

Revolutionary or reformer—the error is the same. Unable to dominate and reform his own attitude towards life, which is everything, or his own being, which is almost everything, he flees, devoting himself to modifying others and the outside world. Every revolutionary and reformer is a fugitive. To fight for change is to be beyond repair.

I always live in the present. I don’t know the future and no longer have the past. The former oppresses me as the possibility of everything, the latter as the reality of nothing.

I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life.

I’ve always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I’m not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect.

To recognize reality as a form of illusion and illusion as a form of reality is equally necessary and equally useless.

Sadly I write in my quiet room, alone as I have always been, alone as I will always be. And I wonder if my apparently negligible voice might not embody the essence of thousands of voices, the patience of millions of souls resigned like my own to their daily lot, their useless dreams, and their hopeless hopes.

The downfall of classical ideas made all men potential artists, and therefore bad artists. When art depended on solid construction and the careful observance of rules, few could attempt to be artists, and a fair number of these were quite good. But when art, instead of being understood as creation, became merely an expression of feelings, then anyone could be an artist, because everyone has feelings.

And there are many sincere feelings and much genuine emotion that I extract from not feeling. There are moments when the emptiness of feeling oneself live attains the consistency of a positive thing.

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Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary


I just started reading through the 737-pages of Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary. It’s a collection of all the entries that Gombrowicz published in weekly installments from 1953 to 1969 in the Polish expatriate journal Kultura. It was a project that started out of necessity when he was living, since the start of WWII, as an expatriate in Argentina, where he was unable to sustain himself through his writing alone, and prevented by his job as a bank clerk to be anything but a weekend writer. Thus the diary as a form became the perfect way for him to express himself.

I have only read through the first year (about 100 pages) but it is already clear to me what themes will preoccupy him throughout. I recognize many of them from Ferdydurke, which is recognized as his greatest work of fiction. These themes include: individual identity over group identity, the narrow-mindedness of ideological literature, the vapid nature of the literary establishment, and the struggles of unrecognized genius.

I prefer not to identify too much with the slogans of the present day, which change rapidly. I feel that art should maintain a distance from slogans and look for its own, more personal, paths. In works of art I like the mysterious deviation the best, the deviation that causes that a work, even while adhering to its epoch, nevertheless is the work of a separate individual who lives his own life.

It is easy to have ideals, but it is hard not to falsify minute details in the name of great ideals.

We are not the direct heirs of past greatness or insignificance, intelligence or stupidity, virtue or sin and each person is responsible only for himself. Each is himself.

Cervantes wrote Don Quixote to settle accounts with the bad knighthood romances of his time, of which not a single tract has survived while Quixote has. From which humbler authors can derive the moral that one can write in a lasting way about things that are nonlasting.

Writers! We should save ourselves a great many disillusionment if we did not call everyone who can write, a writer. I knew those writers. They were usually persons of rather superficial intelligence and quite narrow horizons who, as far as I can remember, did not become anybody so that today they don’t really have much to give up. These cadavers were characterized in their lifetime by the following: it was easy for them to fabricate a moral and ideological face, thereby earning the approbation of the critics and the more serious part of the readership.

I attack Polish form because it is my form, because all of my works desire to be, in a certain sense, a revision of the modern man in relation to form, to form which is not a result of him but which is formed between people. I do not need to tell you that this thought, together with all of its ramifications, is a child of our times, when people have intentionally set out to remake man. It even seems to me that it is the key to understanding today’s consciousness.

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Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow circa 1989.

From Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow:

Poet, thinker, problem drinker, pill-taker, man of genius, manic depressive, intricate schemer, success story, he once wrote poems of great wit and beauty, but what had he done lately?

There came a time (Early Modern) when, apparently, life lost the ability to arrange itself. It had to be arranged. Intellectuals took this as their job. From, say, Machiavelli’s time to our own this arranging has been the one great gorgeous tantalizing misleading disastrous project. A man like Humboldt, inspired, shrewd, nutty, was brimming over with the discovery that the human enterprise, so grand and infinitely varied, had now to be managed by exceptional persons. He was an exceptional person, therefore he was an eligible candidate for power. Well, why not? Whispers of sane judgement plainly told him why not and made this comical.

Nowadays the categories are grasped by those who belong to them.

Many Americans described themselves as artists or intellectuals who should only have said that they were incapable of doing such work.

Why, I look like a man intensely but incompletely thinking.

It made me think what a tremendous force the desire to be interesting has in the democratic USA.

In modern times the question had been dealt with under the name of anomie or Alienation, as an effect of capitalist conditions of labor, as a result of leveling in Mass Society, as a consequence of the dwindling of religious faith or the gradual using up of charismatic or prophetic elements, or the neglect of Unconscious powers, or the increase of Rationalization in technological society, or the growth of bureaucracy.

Suppose then that you began with the proposition of boredom was a kind of pain caused by unused powers, the pain of wasted possibilities or talents, and was accompanied by expectations of optimum utilization of capacities.

Nothing actual ever suits pure expectation and such purity of expectation is a great source of tedium. People rich in abilities, in sexual feeling, rich in mind and in invention–all the highly gifted see themselves shunted for decades onto dull sidings, banished exiled nailed up in chicken coops. Imagination has even tried to surmount the problems by forcing boredom itself to yield interest.

She talked like a syllabus.

History had created something new in the USA, namely crookedness with self-respect and duplicity with honor.

By means of music a man affirmed that the logically unanswerable was, in a different form, answerable. Sounds without determinate meaning became more and more pertinent, the greater the music.

The Names by Don DeLillo


From The Names by Don DeLillo:

Even at a distance, her mouth showed the small pursed conceit of a remark in the making.

Don’t look at my books. It makes me nervous when people do that. I feel I ought to follow along, pointing out which ones were gifts from fools and misfits.

I also think people save up remarks like that, waiting for me to come into range.

Self-deprecation is a language I don’t think I understand. It’s so often a form of ego, isn’t it, a form of aggression, a wanting to be noticed even for one’s flaws.

My critical sense has been given a confident charge these past weeks. It does something for a person’s self-esteem when he is able to judge entire land masses as second-rate.

We know those gaunt families whose night scoutings remind us so much of our childhood games. We know the stocking strangler, the gunman with sleepy eyes, the killer of women, the killer of vagrant old men, the killer of blacks, the sniper, the slasher in tight leather, the rooftop sodomist who hurls children into the narrow alley below. These things are in the literature, along with the screams of victims in some cases, which their murderers have thought instructive to put on tape.

Reality Hunger by David Shields

From Reality Hunger by David Shields:

Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.

The confidence in a logic of things that was dust and universal. All the technical elements of narrative–the systematic use of the past tense and third person, the unconditional adoption of chronological development, linear plots, the regular trajectory of the passions, the impulse of each episode toward a conclusion, etc.–tended to impose the image of a stable, coherent continuous, unequivocal, entirely decipherable universe.

The books of Proust and Faulkner are crammed with stories, but in the former, they dissolve in order to be recomposed to the advantage of a mental architecture of time, whereas in the latter, the development of themes and their many associations overwhelms all chronology to the point of seeming to bury again in the course of the novel what narrative has just revealed.

Rothko is great because he forced artists who came after him to change how they thought about painting.

The American writer has his hands full, trying to understand and then describe and then make credible much of the American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up our figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.

(Ambitious) memoir isn’t fundamentally a chronicle of experience; rather, memoir is the story of consciousness contending with experience.

Cinema verite doesn’t make a clear enough distinction between fact and truth–as if facts constituted truth–but there’s quite a distinction.

Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe silk screens and his Double Elvis work as metaphors because their images are so common in the culture that they can be used as shorthand, as other generations would have used, say, the sea.

Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire


From Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire:

Which one of us, in his moments of ambition, has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical, without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience?

Such erratic pranks are not without danger and one often has to pay dearly for them. But what is an eternity of damnation compared to an infinity of pleasure in a single second?

At last! I am alone! Nothing can be heard but the rambling of a few belated and weary cabs. For a few hours at least silence will be ours, if not sleep. At last! the tyranny of the human face has disappeared, and now there will be no one but myself to make me suffer.

Ah miserable dog, if I had offered you a package of excrement you would have sniffed at it with delight and perhaps gobbled it up. In this you resemble the public, which should never be offered delicate perfumes that infuriate them, but only carefully selected garbage.

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself or someone else, as he chooses. Like those wandering souls who go looking for a body, he enters as he likes into each man’s personality. For him alone everything is vacant; and if certain places seem closed to him, it is only because in his eyes they are not worth visiting.

All I ask of my cursed journalist is to be allowed to amuse myself in my own way. ‘And so,’ he says with his most evangelical and nasal inflection, ‘you never feel the need of sharing your pleasures?’ Ah, the subtle envy! He knows that I scorn his pleasures and he tries to insinuate himself into mine, the odious kill-joy!

‘Almost all our ills come from not staying in our own room,’ says another wise man. I believe it was Pascal, recalling from his cell of self-communion all those madmen who seek happiness in activity and in what I might call, to use the wonderful language of the day, the brotherhood of prostitution.

To be mean is never excusable, but there is some virtue in knowing one is; the unforgivable vice is to do harm out of stupidity.

One should always be drunk. That’s the great thing; the only question. Not to feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and bowing you to the earth, you should be drunk without respite.

Perhaps you will say ‘Are you sure that your story is the real one?’ But what does it matter what reality is outside myself, so long as it has helped me to live, to feel that I am, and what I am?

There are women who inspire you with desire to conquer them and to take your pleasure of them; but this one fills you only with the desire to die slowly beneath her gaze.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

julio cortazar latin american literature cover

This is an incredible book about a failed intellectual grappling with the end of a relationship. He goes through an existential crisis–that starts in Paris and ends in Buenos Aires–about the futility of his own intelligence to help him cope with his life instead of miring him down into an abstract labyrinth of madness. It’s a postmodern tale told through hypertext, fake books, fake authors, jazz translated into prose, and a literary philosophy that describes how a novel should be written and specifically how this one should be read.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

To believe that action could crown something, or that the sum total of actions could really be a life worthy of the name was the illusion of a moralist.

If the volume or the tone of the work can lead one to believe that the author is attempting a sum, hasten to point out to him that he is face to face with the opposite attempt, that of an implacable subtraction.

At least those modern guys make you think of Jackson Pollock or Tobey, it’s easy to see that they’ve left the age of the pianola and the box of watercolors.

And when you start talking about the search for unity, then I start to see a lot of beautiful things, but they’re all dead, pressed flowers and things like that.

Of all our feelings the only one which really doesn’t belong to us is hope. Hope belongs to life, it’s life itself defending itself. Etcetera.

A perniciously comfortable attitude which even becomes easy as it grows into a reflex or technique; the frightful lucidity of the paralytic, the blindness of the perfectly stupid athlete. One begins to go about with the sluggish step of a philosopher or a clochard, as more and more vital gestures become reduced to mere instincts of preservation, to a conscience more alert not to be deceived than to grasp truth.

I touch your mouth, I touch the edge of your mouth with my finger, I am drawing it as if it were something my hand was sketching, as if for the first time your mouth opened a little, and all I have to do is close my eyes to erase it and start all over again, every time I can make the mouth I want appear, the mouth which my hand chooses and sketches on your face, and which by some chance that I do not seek to understand coincides exactly with your mouth which smiles beneath the one my hand is sketching on you.

You look at me, from close up you look at me, closer and closer and then we play cyclops, we look closer and closer at one another and our eyes get larger, they come closer, they merge into one and the two cyplopses look at each other, blending as they breathe, our mouths touch and struggle in gentle warmth, biting each other with their lips, barely holding their tongues on their teeth, playing in corners where a heavy air comes and goes with an old perfume and a silence. Then my hands go to sink into your hair, to cherish slowly the depth of your hair while we kiss as if our mouths were filled with flowers or with fish, with lively movements and dark fragrance. And if we bite each other the pain is sweet, and if we smother each other in a brief and terrible sucking in together of our breaths, that momentary death is beautiful. And there is but one saliva and one flavor of ripe fruit, and I feel you tremble against me like a moon on the water.

Americana by Don DeLillo

If I were on my death bed today, and did not know the date, my cells would probably refuse to surrender. Without a calendar, a stopwatch, a measuring cup on the night table, I couldn’t possibly know how to die.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

There is a very loud amusement park right in front of my present lodgings.