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"Lee's hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. 'Don't you see?' he cried. 'The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—'Thou mayest'— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if 'Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' Don’t you see?' "
---John Steinbeck, East of Eden


"That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coalbins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain."
---Ray Bradbury, The October Country


"An editor doesn't just read, he reads well, and reading well is a creative, powerful act. The ancients knew this and it frightened them. Mesopotamian society, for instance, did not want great reading from its scribes, only great writing. Scribes had to submit to a curious ruse: they had to downplay their reading skills lest they antagonize their employer. …. In their fear of readers, ancients understood something we have forgotten about the magnitude of readership. Reading breeds the power of an independent mind. When we read well, we are thinking hard for ourselves—this is the essence of freedom. It is also the essence of editing. Editors are scribes liberated to not simply record and disseminate information, but think hard about it, interpret, and ultimately, influence it."
---Susan Bell


"The poet is someone who is permanently involved with a language that is dying and which he resurrects, not by giving it back some triumphant aspect but by making it return sometimes, like a specter or a ghost: the poet wakes up language and in order to really make the 'live' experience of this waking up, of this return to life of language, one has to be very close to the corpse of the language."
---Jacques Derrida, trans. unknown


"But with that I have to say I don't believe in 'best of' books. It creates a hierarchy, and books are not hierarchy, books are medicine. We read what we need to heal us. There are personal prescriptions, but there's no such thing as 'best.' "
---Sandra Cisneros


"We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is to foster a state of mind, in which understanding may come to us."
---Aldous Huxley


"In what form, asks the writer, can I most truthfully describe the world as it is experienced by this particular self? And it is from that starting point that each writer goes on to make their individual compromise with the self, which is always a compromise with truth as far as the self can know it. That is why the most common feeling, upon re-reading one's own work, is Prufrock's: 'That is not it at all … that is not what I meant, at all…' Writing feels like self-betrayal, like failure."
---Zadie Smith, "Fail Better"


"Bad writing does nothing, changes nothing, educates no emotions, rewires no inner circuitry---we close its covers with the same metaphysical confidence in the universality of our own interface as we did when we opened it. But great writing---great writing forces you to submit to its vision. You spend the morning reading Chekhov and in the afternoon, walking through your neighbourhood, the world has turned Chekhovian; the waitress in the cafe offers a non-sequitur, a dog dances in the street."
---Zadie Smith, "Fail Better"


"The search for an identity is one of the most wholesale phony ideas we’ve ever been sold. In the twenty-first century it’s almost entirely subsumed in its purest form of 'brand identity'—for Levi to be 'more black' would simply involve the purchasing of items connected with the idea of blackness. How can anyone be more black? Or more female? It’s like saying 'I want to be more nose-having, more leg possessing.' People can only be defined by their actions in a world that contains other people. Sitting on a hill alone screaming 'I am a Muslim in the 24–29 age bracket who likes Pepsi and sitcoms about loose bands of interconnected young people in my age group; I am a person who is French and into the things of Frenchness; I am a basketball player; a flower picker…' What does it mean? The Belsey children need to stop worrying about their identity and concern themselves with the people they care about, ideas that matter to them, beliefs they can stand by, tickets they can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful. The Belseys need to weigh situations as they appear before them, and decide what they want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out."
---Zadie Smith, On Beauty


"I want to be loved unreasonably by an unreasonable love because we’ve nearly drowned in the poison of reasonable loving, reasonable liking, reasonable living, reasonable essays, reasonable art and reasonable political discourse."
---Kiese Laymon


"My literature classes didn’t help. My professors stressed the importance of approaching a text with detachment, with a critical gaze rather than an emotional one. There wasn’t a place in academia for gushing or ranting. There wasn’t room to simply say, 'I loved this and I don’t know why.' One had to use academic jargon. One had to be methodical and thorough. It was like listening to a song and wanting so badly to get up and dance, but instead of dancing, you have to sit there and think about why those sounds made you want to dance and consider the exact mechanics behind the formula of a danceable song. And I didn’t want to fucking do that. I just wanted to dance. I just wanted to read. I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to deconstruct lines of poetry or do a close reading of Faulkner’s usage of semicolons."
---Jenny Zhang, "The Importance of Angsty Art"


"On Leaving the Body to Science"
The my becomes
            a the, becomes
                         the state’s

the coroner’s,
            a law’s, something
                         assignable,

by me, alone,
            though it will not
                         be the I

I am on
            leaving it, no
                         longer to be

designated human or
            corpse: cadaver
                         it will be,

nameless patient
           stored in
                        the deep hold

of the hospital
           as in the storage
                       of a ghost ship

run aground —
          the secret in it
                       that will,

perhaps, stir again
          the wind that
                       failed. It

will be preserved,
          kept like larva,
                       like a bullet

sealed gleaming
          in its chamber.
                       They will gather

around it,
          probe and sample,
                        argue — then

return it
          to its between-
                        world, remove

their aprons
          and gloves
                        and stroll, some evenings,

a city block
           for a beer,
                        a glass of chilled

white wine. Even there, they
           will continue
                        to speak of it,

what they
           glean from beneath
                        the narrative

of scars, surgical
           cavities, the
                        wondrous

mess it became
           before I left it
                        to them

with what’s
           left of me, this
                        name, a signature,

a neatened
           suture, perfect, this
                        last, selfish stitch. 

---Claudia Emerson


"The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again—not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life."
---Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts


"My Uncle's Favorite Coffee Shop"
Serum of steam rising from the cup,
what comfort to be known personally by Barbara,
her perfect pouring hand and starched ascot,
known as the two easy eggs and the single pancake,
without saying.
What pleasure for an immigrant—
anything without saying.

My uncle slid into his booth.
I cannot tell you—how I love this place.
He drained the water glass, noisily clinking his ice.
My uncle hailed from an iceless region.
He had definite ideas about water drinking.
I cannot tell you—all the time. But then he’d try.

My uncle wore a white shirt every day of his life.
He raised his hand against the roaring ocean
and the television full of lies.
He shook his head back and forth
from one country to the other
and his ticket grew longer.
Immigrants had double and nothing all at once.
Immigrants drove the taxis, sold the beer and Cokes.
When he found one note that rang true,
he sang it over and over inside.
Coffee, honey.
His eyes roamed the couples at other booths,
their loose banter and casual clothes.
But he never became them.

Uncle who finally left in a bravado moment
after 23 years, to live in the old country forever,
to stay and never come back,

maybe it would be peaceful now,
maybe for one minute,
I cannot tell you—how my heart has settled at last.
But he followed us to the sidewalk
saying, Take care, Take care,
as if he could not stand to leave us.

I cannot tell—

how we felt
to learn that the week he arrived,
he died. Or how it is now,
driving his parched streets,
feeling the booth beneath us as we order,
oh, anything, because if we don’t,
nothing will come.
---Naomi Shihab Nye


"I have spent time studying the nature of light. It is part curiosity and part meditation; someday I hope to understand why I see the way I do. Scriveners have studied light, too, and in the books Madding read to me, they claimed that the brightest light—true light—is the combination of all other kinds of light. Red, blue, yellow, more; put it all together and the result is shining white.

"This means, in a way, that true light is dependent on the presence of other lights. Take the others away and darkness results. Yet the reverse is not true: take away darkness and there is only more darkness. Darkness can exist by itself. Light cannot."
---N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms


"I overcame myself, the sufferer; I carried my own ashes to the mountains; I invented a brighter flame for myself. And behold, then this ghost fled from me."
---Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. unknown


"What Came to Me"
I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.
---Jane Kenyon


"The Woodlice"
The beauty of one sister
who loved them so
she smuggled the woodlice
into her pockets & then into
the house, after a day’s work
of digging in the yard,
& after the older ones of us
had fed her & washed,
she carried them into
the bed with her, to mother
them, so that they would have
two blankets & be warm, for
this is what she knew of love,
& the beloveds emerged one
by one from their defenses, unfolding
themselves across the bed’s white sheet
like they did over 400 years ago, carried
from that other moonlight,
accidentally, or by children, into
the ship’s dark hold, slowly
adapting to the new rooms
of cloths, then fields, & we,
the elders to that sister,
we, having seen strangers
in our house before, we, being
older, being more ugly & afraid,
we began, then, to teach her the lessons
of dirt & fear.
---Aracelis Girmay


"Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live."
---Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


"Ashes of Life"
Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will,—and would that night were here!
But ah!—to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again!—with twilight near!

Love has gone and left me and I don’t know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I’m through,—
There’s little use in anything as far as I can see.

Love has gone and left me,—and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse,—
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
There’s this little street and this little house.
---Edna St. Vincent Millay


"Imagine that the world is made out of love. Now imagine that it isn’t. Imagine a story where everything goes wrong, where everyone has their back against the wall, where everyone is in pain and acting selfishly because if they don’t, they’ll die. Imagine a story, not of good against evil, but of need against need against need, where everyone is at cross-purposes and everyone is to blame."
---Richard Siken


"Ignorance in doing science creates the excitement of doing science, and anyone who does it knows that discoveries lead to a further ignorance."
---George Coyne


"I’m working on my own life story. I don’t mean I’m putting it together; no, I’m taking it apart."
---Margaret Atwood, The Tent


"Why we don't die"

In late September many voices
Tell you you will die.
That leaf says it. That coolness.
All of them are right.

Our many souls- what
Can they do about it?
Nothing. They’re already
Part of the invisible.

Our souls have been
Longing to go home
Anyway. “It’s late,” they say.
“Lock the door, let’s go.”

The body doesn’t agree. It says,
“We buried a little iron
Ball under that tree.
Let’s go get it.”
---Robert Bly


"When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them."
---Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall


"Hatred"
I shall hate you
Like a dart of singing steel
Shot through still air
At even-tide,
Or solemnly
As pines are sober
When they stand etched
Against the sky.
Hating you shall be a game
Played with cool hands
And slim fingers.
Your heart will yearn
For the lonely splendor
Of the pine tree
While rekindled fires
In my eyes
Shall wound you like swift arrows.
Memory will lay its hands
Upon your breast
And you will understand
My hatred.
---Gwendolyn B. Bennett


"Let us take seriously the figure of the feminist kill-joy. Does the feminist kill other people’s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public signs of joy? The feminist is an affect alien: she might even kill joy because she refuses to share an orientation toward certain things as being good because she does not find the objects that promise happiness to be quite so promising."
---Sara Ahmed, "Happy Objects"


"Toward what island-home am I moving"
Toward what island-home am I moving,
not wanting to marry, not wanting
too much of that emptiness at evening,
as when I walked through a field at dusk
and felt wide in the night.
And it was again the evening that drew me
back to the field where I was most alone,
compassed by stems and ruts,
no light of the fixed stars, no flashing in the eyes,
only heather pared by dry air, shedding
a small feathered radiance when I looked away,
an expanse whose deep sleep seemed an unending
warren I had been given, to carry out such tasks—
that I might find nothing dead.
And it was again the evening that drew me
back to the field where I could sense no boundary—
the smell of dry earth, cool arch of my neck, the darkness
entirely within myself.
And when I shut my eyes there was no one.
Only weeds in drifts of stillness, only
stalks and gliding sky.

Come, black anchor, let us not be harmed.
The deer leafing in the dark.
The old man at the table, unable to remember.
The children whose hunger is just hunger,
and never desire.
---Joanna Klink


"She loved to read and did so quite uncritically, taking each book as a prescription of sorts, an argument for a certain kind of life."
---Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus


Where does the world cease to be itself
and become our longing for it?
---Christopher Howell, "Longing"


"… self-knowledge isn’t the goal I seek. Strength, strength is what I want. Strength not to endure, I have that and it has made me weak— but strength to act—"
---Susan Sontag


"To me, a song is a validation of lyric poetry’s primal nature. Song exists inside time to express individual feeling, but it also has the capacity to transcend time. Song emanates from individuals and rises up out of time. Lyric poetry speaks from the very middle of this mystery. Song and lyric poetry have a lot to do with my thinking about the Book.

"The Book I am imagining is a gigantic anthology filled with every poem and song ever written. All poems and songs feed into it. The Book is an ultimate jukebox, an iPod as big as the moon from which each person can download that playlist that will help them live. We go to it not for entertainment (as the jukebox or iPod metaphor might imply) but to find the words we need to sustain us. The Book is a huge, accessible repository of testimony about the mysteries and catastrophes and wonders that we experience. We’re there to sustain the Book, too, with what we sing, write, and compose. When you write a poem, it’s here in time, functioning in your own individual life, and maybe the lives of the people around you. But your poem also goes into the Book, where it has its own life, the span of which may be much longer and much different than you’ve imagined."
---Gregory Orr


"Full Moon"
Good God!
What did I dream last night?
I dreamt I was the moon.
I woke and found myself still asleep.

It was like this: my face misted up from inside
And I came and went at will through a little peephole.
I had no voice, no mouth, nothing to express my trouble,
except my shadows leaning downhill, not quite parallel.

Something needs to be said to describe my moonlight.
Almost frost but softer, almost ash but wholer.
Made almost of water, which has strictly speaking
No feature, but a kind of counter-light, call it insight.

Like in woods, when they jostle their hooded shapes,
Their heads congealed together, having murdered each other,
There are moon-beings, sound-beings, such as deer and half-deer
Passing through there, whose eyes can pierce through things.

I was like that: visible invisible visible invisible.
There’s no material as variable as moonlight.
I was climbing, clinging to the underneath of my bones, thinking:
Good God! Who have I been last night?
---Alice Oswald


"The Future Is an Animal"
In every kind of dream I am a black wolf
careening through a web. I am the spider
who eats the wolf and inhabits the wolf’s body.
In another dream I marry the wolf and then
am very lonely. I seek my name and they name me
Lucky Dragon. I would love to tell you that all
of this has a certain ending but the most frightening
stories are the ones with no ending at all.
The path goes on and on. The road keeps forking,
splitting like an endless atom, splitting
like a lip, and the globe is on fire. As many
times as the book is read, the pages continue
to grow, multiply. They said, In the beginning,
and that was the moral of the original and most
important story. The story of man. One story.
I laid my head down and my head was heavy.
Hair sprouted through the skin, hair black
and bending toward night grass. I was becoming
the wolf again, my own teeth breaking
into my mouth for the first time, a kind of beauty
to be swallowed in interior bite and fever.
My mind a miraculous ember until I am the beast.
I run from the story that is faster than me,
the words shatter and pant to outchase me.
The story catches my heels when I turn
to love its hungry face, when I am willing
to be eaten to understand my fate.
---Tina Chang


"House Guest"
The sad seamstress
who stays with us this month
is small and thin and bitter.
No one can cheer her up.
Give her a dress, a drink,
roast chicken, or fried fish—
it’s all the same to her.

She sits and watches TV.
No, she watches zigzags.
“Can you adjust the TV?”
“No,” she says. No hope.
she watches on and on,
without hope, without air.

Her own clothes give us pause,
but she’s not a poor orphan.
She has a father, a mother,
and all that, and she’s earning
quite well, and we’re stuffing
her with fattening foods.

We invite her to use the binoculars.
We say, “Come see the jets!”
We say, “Come see the baby!”
Or the knife grinder who cleverly
plays the National Anthem
on his wheel so shrilly.
Nothing helps.

She speaks: “I need a little
money to buy buttons.”
She seems to think it’s useless
to ask. Heavens, buy buttons,
if they’ll do any good,
the biggest in the world—
by the dozen, by the gross!
Buy yourself an ice cream,
a comic book, a car!

Her face is closed as a nut,
closed as a careful snail
or a thousand year old seed.
Does she dream of marriage?
Of getting rich? Her sewing
is decidedly mediocre.

Please! Take our money! Smile!
What on earth have we done?
What has everyone done
and when did it all begin?
Then one day she confides
that she wanted to be a nun
and her family opposed her.

Perhaps we should let her go,
or deliver her straight off
to the nearest convent - and wasn’t
her month up last week, anyway?

Can it be that we nourish
one of the Fates in our bosoms?
Clotho, sewing our lives
with a bony little foot
on a borrowed sewing machine,
and our fates will be like hers,
and our hems crooked forever?
---Elizabeth Bishop


"Everyone’s getting older. When I crossed that line in my mind where I knew I was with the person that I wanted to marry, it was a very heavy thing, because you’re inviting death into your life. You know that that’s hopefully after many, many, many, many years, but the idea of death stops being abstract, because there is someone you can’t bear to lose. when it registers as true, it’s like a little shade of grief that comes in when love is its most real version. Then it contains death inside of it, and then that death contains love inside of it."
---Joanna Newsom


"my dream about being white"
hey music and
me
only white,
hair a flutter of
fall leaves
circling my perfect
line of a nose,
no lips,
no behind, hey
white me
and i’m wearing
white history
but there’s no future
in those clothes
so i take them off and
wake up
dancing.
---Lucille Clifton


"Cutting away what I consider to be the engine of the essay—doubt and the unknown, let’s say—leaves us with articles and theses, facts and information, our side and their side, dreary optimism and even drearier pessimism, but nowhere to turn in a moment of true need."
---Charles D’Ambrosio, "Loitering"


"Professor Johnston often said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree."
---Michael Crichton, Timeline


"One actually thinks in poetry […] It’s a form of thought, not a form of expression, because a form of expression means you have something separate from what’s being expressed."
---Margaret Atwood


"I like Simone Weil’s idea that writing is actually the translation of a text we already carry within us. That notion makes a heavy task lighter. In fact, though, writing is the backbreaking work of hacking a footpath, as in a coal mine; in total darkness, beneath the earth.

"In poetry there are moments of illumination. A streak of light falls in the dark corridor, then the darkness slams shut overhead once more.

"In prose the darknesses are even thicker, the black clods even harder."
---Anna Kamieńska


"Yet how strange a thing is the beauty of music! The brief beauty that the player brings into being transforms a given period of time into pure continuance; it is certain never to be repeated; like the existence of dayflies and other such short-lived creatures, beauty is a perfect abstraction and creation of life itself. Nothing is so similar to life as music."
---Yukio Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, trans. unknown


"The Darren language has a word for the attraction one feels to danger: esui. It is esui that makes warriors charge into hopeless battles and die laughing. Esui is also what draws women to lovers who are bad for them—men who would make poor fathers, women of the enemy. The Senmite word that comes closest is ‘lust,’ if one includes ‘bloodlust’ and 'lust for life,’ though these do not adequately capture the layered nature of esui. It is glory, it is folly. It is everything not sensible, not rational, not safe at all—but without ensui, there is no point in living."
---N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


"… memory does not so much depend on the completeness of things left behind as on their thoroughly crafted and rough outlines, on their worn surfaces, on their very scars and absences, on mould, rusts, and fragmentations. In other words, ruined things remind us, as archaeologists and students of things, to acknowledge that they do not remember–or at least only reluctantly so–the linear narratives we relentlessly have made them bear witness to. Indeed, such appropriation of things and fragments from the past as ‘historical witness’ may also be seen as yet another aspect of their domestication; a conduct where things are made to serve as loyal contributors to a continuous past which in reality they are ‘blasted’ out of and thus, exist in opposition to."
---Dora Petursdottir and Bjornar Olsen, "Archaeology of Ruins"


"Strange Theater"
You are reading a book at a table on the stage
of a small theater. The theater will be closing
in two months. There are books by Freud, Nietzsche,
and Foucault on the table. You are seven, face
beautifully framed by thick glasses, having read
since four with just one candle. There is nothing
on stage except you, the candle, the books.
The curtain falls. You are crushed between the purple velvet.

Act II, Scene I

Open, A girl in a garden.

She is picking azaleas, placing them into a metal can,
swelling. The bees and the dragonflies won’t leave
her. She swats at them with a small shovel.

The background changes and she is ten years older,
in the army with a rifle. The rifle is always the main character.
Two years later, times have changed. She’s performing
in a sequined number, face covered with pancake and blush,
just a few people in the audience as she sings her final number,
a couple of steps and her stockings fall to her ankles.

Act II, Scene II

The spotlight is focused on someone new. A hustler
with a purple fedora, a cigar, a fat gold cane.
He dances, sidesteps the woman. He is the predator
and she should’ve seen it coming but she had
her childhood glasses on. She is tough and wrestles
the hustler. She has him head-locked under her arm,
the props are falling, they are tumbling down
a hole left of stage.

Act III, Scene I

The hustler is gone. All she has left of him
is his plumage. She is hungry and indicates so
by holding her stomach and grimacing.
She wants to go home.

There is a paper boat that can take her back
to New York but she is not sure it can hold her
weight. The paper boat gondolier pushes her
onto the boat. People wave from the other side.
They wanted her to leave all along, her presence
needed off stage, in the minutes elsewhere.

Epilogue

The journey was under the bright lights,
a floor functioning like an emergency
room in a hospital, gurney and urgency.
She exits and exits again, until she’s
on the street, in a parking lot. How those
faces still light up. She walks through the lot,
as if blindly feeling. She knows them now
in her waking life. They inhabit her, shaking her
down in daylight. The moon never did any good
but light the way to those pale faces.
---Tina Chang


"Wild Invention"
This is a story about a girl who ran,
all night she ran after the wolf, aimed
at its hind legs, then stood above it,
and shot it between the eyes, skinned
it until the soul of the animal departed
from this world. Then the meat stopped
pulsing, then it shined with all its delicate
possibilities.

This is the story of the girl who stalked
the forest with nothing but a shotgun
and compass, due North, hollowed
the animal under moonlight, desire
dripping like blood into a tin pan,
the stars leaking a tonic into her cup.
Her appetite was the forest she traveled.
Though lost, she dragged the wolf
with her like a past surrendering
to a new life. The sun emerging
over the mountain like a heart flayed
open with a light in the middle.

*

The animal must be shot. You must
be hungry enough to skin it without
flinching, must be willing to cook it,
still trembling over the watchful eye
of the fire. You must also be willing
to track yourself down, see the will
of the god who made all beasts fear
for their lives. The rabbit quivers in its
white coat, raises its ears and takes off,
the boar nothing but an exotic pest
roaming the hillsides. You eat, grateful
for the skin that keeps this life in tact,
under the roof beams of your long life,
under a bridge that is a heaven of deer bones.
You are a more wonderful animal
than you could ever imagine: Great flying
loon, foxes coupling in the dark brush.
---Tina Chang


"I pray. I pray a lot. I’m somebody who has a big inner life, and for most of my life it had a lot of darkness in it, and for me prayer is a way of standing in a light. It’s no more complicated than that. So I pray both for people and I do something called the Ignatian Exercises, which are a way of kind of looking at the end of every day at that day and examining places where you saw God, places where God was present for you. If you do that every day over a long period of time, you start to realize that the things you ‘value,’ the things that are supposed to be important to you are often just not that important. And the places that really are sustaining to you in a spiritual way are very surprising — they’re not where you think they’re going to be."
---Mary Karr


"The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth."
---Georges Bataille, trans. unknown


"Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent. On the contrary, the very opposite is true. All day, all night, the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane - smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending process of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. But of this daily drama of the body there is no record."
---Virginia Woolf, "On Being Ill"


"Joy in the Woods"
There is joy in the woods just now,
      The leaves are whispers of song,
And the birds make mirth on the bough
      And music the whole day long,
And God! to dwell in the town
      In these springlike summer days,
On my brow an unfading frown
      And hate in my heart always—

A machine out of gear, aye, tired,
Yet forced to go on—for I’m hired.

Just forced to go on through fear,
      For every day I must eat
And find ugly clothes to wear,
      And bad shoes to hurt my feet
And a shelter for work-drugged sleep!
      A mere drudge! but what can one do?
A man that’s a man cannot weep!
      Suicide? A quitter? Oh, no!

But a slave should never grow tired,
Whom the masters have kindly hired.

But oh! for the woods, the flowers
      Of natural, sweet perfume,
The heartening, summer showers
      And the smiling shrubs in bloom,
Dust-free, dew-tinted at morn,
      The fresh and life-giving air,
The billowing waves of corn
      And the birds’ notes rich and clear:—

For a man-machine toil-tired
May crave beauty too—though he’s hired.

---Claude McKay


"I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst."
---Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, trans. unknown


"Still Life"
Down by the pond, addicts sleep
on rocky grass half in water, half out,
and there the moon lights them
out of tawny silhouettes into the rarest
of amphibious flowers I once heard called striders,
between, but needing, two worlds.
Of what can you accuse them now,
                                                    beauty?

---Katie Ford


"How does one hate a country, or love one?…I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply?"
---Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


"I love borders. August is the border between summer and autumn; it is the most beautiful month I know. Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing; when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing."
---Tove Jansson, trans. unknown


"What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession."
---Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


"No matter how voraciously or widely we read, it can still be hard to articulate the exquisite sensation of finding a book that grabs us; whose narrative causes us to lose all sense of time—of our bodies, even—and stay up reading longer than the morning’s commitments make sensible. It’s a bit like being in love, in that sense: even when we know we ought to be doing something else, that the story will still be waiting for us if we step away for an hour or two, it doesn’t seem to matter—we pine, distracted and eager, as in the earliest, deepest stages of infatuation, conducting a whirlwind romance that starts with a word and ends with the rosy afterglow of the last page turned. This is the deepest magic of stories, and its most important: the conjuration of an empathy so pure, it all but tumbles us out of our skins and into someone else’s."
---Foz Meadows


"Because We Love Bare Hills and Stunted Trees"
Because we love bare hills and stunted trees
we head north when we can,
past taiga, tundra, rocky shoreline, ice.

Where does it come from, this sparse taste
of ours? How long
did we roam this hardscape, learning by heart
all that we used to know:
turn skin fur side in,
partner with wolves, eat fat, hate waste,
carve spirit, respect the snow,
build and guard flame?

Everything once had a soul,
even this clam, this pebble.
Each had a secret name.
Everything listened.
Everything was real,
but didn’t always love you.
You needed to take care.

We long to go back there,
or so we like to feel
when it’s not too cold.
We long to pay that much attention.
But we’ve lost the knack;
also there’s other music.
All we hear in the wind’s plainsong
is the wind.
---Margaret Atwood


"One aspect of literature is that it calls us to empathize. Another is that it requires great amounts of time alone, in solitude, thinking one’s own thoughts. If she is not careful, the writer might focus on the second and forget the first. The writing practice, especially when we are apprenticing, especially when we are young, can draw us into the infinite mirror of our self-reflective consciousness. Beware, is all I have to say. Don’t be that guy. Get a job washing dishes. Or work admissions at the local A.I.D.S. clinic. The living, wrought world can not be found in your head."
---Rebecca Gayle Howell


"I had been in recent correspondence with Wendell Berry, in whom I had confided how anxiety-filled I was about the suffering I thought some of us, mostly the poor, would experience in this coming climate change, how I was beginning to think nothing could be done to relieve what was to come. And he told me that I must not give into despair. That hoping was what could be done, actually. And that hope would bring work; work, hope. That I should find, and I’m paraphrasing here, a little job to do—a poem to write, a speech to give.

"Not immediately, but soon thereafter, the first How To poems came, and I followed them. I followed the words, the sentences and lines, like bread crumbs back to shelter. I understood, eventually, I was in the middle of a book, the same way one might understand she’s woken in the middle of a field. One of my teachers, Jean Valentine, told me if I listened for what was true, the poems would write themselves. I tried to do that when I was writing Render. I still do."
---Rebecca Gayle Howell


"For the old-time people, time was not a series of ticks of a clock, one following the other. For the old-time people time was round–like a tortilla; time had specified moments and specific locations so that the beloved ancestors who had passed on were not annihilated by death, but only relocated….All times go on existing side by side for all eternity. No moment is lost or destroyed. There are no future times or past times; there are always all the times, which differ slightly, as the locations on the tortilla differ slightly."
---Leslie Marmon Silko, "Notes on Almanac of the Dead"


"The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Murder will out. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims."
---Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery


"From this disappearing middle I strolled. I had my curiosity mainly and my stubbornness. They passed as a passion. Everything, happy and unhappy, has resulted from these two traits."
---Lisa Robertson, "Essay on Origins"


"On a Passenger Ferry"
The deck is big, and crowded. In one corner,
an old woman, sick, on chemo, not in pain, is
writing in an elementary-school notebook.
Nobody else saw her, but I saw her.
I had seen her before. Her round, kind face,
smiling and still as a photograph
outside a window—
---Jean Valentine


"This is how I figure it: the ladder is neither immobile nor empty. It is animated. It incorporates the movement it arouses and inscribes. My ladder is frequented. I say my because of my love for it: it’s climbed by those authors I feel a mysterious affinity for; affinities, choices, are always secret."
---Hélène Cixous, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"


"I have a little talk I give sometimes about windows and mirrors, that children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world."
---Lucille Clifton, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"It's odd how those who dismiss the peace movement as utopian don’t hesitate to proffer the most absurdly dreamy reasons to go to war: to stamp out terrorism, install democracy, eliminate fascism, and most entertainingly, to 'rid the world of evil do-ers.' "
--Arundhati Roy


"Whenever I experience evil, and it is not, unfortunately uncommon to experience it in these times, my deepest feeling is disappointment. I have learned to accept the fact that we risk disappointment, even despair, every time we act. Every time we decided to trust others to be as noble as we think they are. And that there may be years during which our grief is equal to, or evener greater than, our hope. The alternative, however, not to act, and therefore to miss experiencing other people at their best, reaching out toward their fullness, has never appealed to me."
--Alice Walker, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism


"Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around."
--E. L. Konigsburg


"Glass"
In every bar there's someone sitting alone and absolutely absorbed
by whatever he's seeing in the glass in front of him,
a glass that looks ordinary, with something clear or dark
inside it, something partially drunk but never completely gone.
Everything's there: all the plans that came to nothing,
the stupid love affairs, and the terrifying ones, the ones where actual happiness
opened like a hole beneath his feet and he fell in, then lay helpless
while the dirt rained down a little at a time to bury him.
And his friends are there, cracking open six-packs, raising the bottles,
the click of their meeting like the sound of a pool cue
nicking a ball, the wrong ball, that now edges, black and shining,
toward the waiting pocket. But it stops short, and at the bar the lone drinker
signals for another. Now the relatives are floating up
with their failures, with cancer, with plateloads of guilt
and a little laughter, too, and even beauty—some afternoon from childhood,
a lake, a ball game, a book of stories, a few flurries of snow
that thicken and gradually cover the earth until the whole
world's gone white and quiet, until there's hardly a world
at all, no traffic, no money or butchery or sex,
just a blessed peace that seems final but isn't. And finally
the glass that contains and spills this stuff continually
while the drinker hunches before it, while the bartender gathers
up empties, gives back the drinker's own face. Who knows what it looks like;
who cares whether or not it was young once, or ever lovely,
who gives a shit about some drunk rising to stagger toward
the bathroom, some man or woman or even lost
angel who recklessly threw it all over--heaven, the ether,
the celestial works--and said, Fuck it, I want to be human?
Who believes in angels, anyway? Who has time for anything
but their own pleasures and sorrows, for the few good people
they've managed to gather around them against the uncertainty,
against afternoons of sitting alone in some bar
with a name like the Embers or the Ninth Inning or the Wishing Well?
Forget that loser. Just tell me who's buying, who's paying;
Christ but I'm thirsty, and I want to tell you something,
come close I want to whisper it, to pour
the words burning into you, the same words for each one of you,
listen, it's simple, I'm saying it now, while I'm still sober,
while I'm not about to weep bitterly into my own glass,
while you're still here--don't go yet, stay, stay,
give me your shoulder to lean against, steady me, don't let me drop,
I'm so in love with you I can't stand up.
--Kim Addonizio


"Letter"
January 1998

I am not acquainted with anyone
there, if they spoke to me
I would not know what to do.
But so far nobody has, I know
I certainly wouldn't.
I don't participate, I'm not allowed;
I just listen, and every morning
have a moment of such happiness, I breathe
and breathe until the terror returns. About the time
when they are supposed to greet one another
two people actually look into each other's eyes
and hold hands a moment, but
the church is so big and the few who are there
are seated far apart. So this presents no real problem.
I keep my eyes fixed on the great naked corpse, the vertical corpse
who is said to be love
and who spoke the world
into being, before coming here
to be tortured and executed by it.
I don't know what I am doing there. I do
notice the more I lose touch
with what I previously saw as my life
the more real my spot in the dark winter pew becomes--
it is infinite. What we experience
as space, the sky
that is, the sun, the stars
is intimate and rather small by comparison.
When I step outside the ugliness is so shattering
it has become dear to me, like a retarded
child, precious to me.
If only I could tell someone.
The humiliation I go through
when I think of my past
can only be described as grace.
We are created by being destroyed.
--Franz Wright


"This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy."
--Ursula K. Le Guin


"I am reading six books at once, the only way of reading; since, as you will agree, one book is only a single unaccompanied note, and to get the full sound, one needs ten others at the same time."
--Virginia Woolf, The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume Three, 1923-1928


"To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope."
--Anne Carson, Eros: The Bittersweet


"Asking for Directions"
We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn't recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came.
We didn’t say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have
ten minutes to meet your family and leave.
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.
That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.
--Linda Gregg


If you'd lived as I've lived
You would leave off living.
You would hunger for horizons--
Crack east and crack west
Like the smoke-smeared faces
Of factories breaking
The bones of the sky.
--Vladimir Mayakovsky


"Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings--always darker, emptier, and simpler."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"The American Dream Visits While I Clean"
It wasn't part of me, only something I listened to,
like radio music or dialogue on the evening news.

I was cleaning the bathroom. I thought of nothing,
really, while I watched my hands move. It spoke

from the paint peeling on the bathroom ceiling
and the moisture on the windows turning

the wood black. It spoke through the stains
I couldn't clear and caulk loosening at the tub's edge.

It sat on the edge of the tub and recalled my past:
a broken down car that couldn't get me home

and meals of hot dogs every night of the week.
Sunlight sharpened the room and revealed

spots on the fixtures. A cat waltzed in
and threw the light back on itself, his hair

clinging to the wet tub. The dream didn't
notice that I wiped the surface clean again.

It stayed where it was and talked of nothing,
really, like dreams do.
--Julie Brooks Barbour


"won't you celebrate with me"
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
--Lucille Clifton


"More than just a physical space, he explained, a city is a set of cultural norms. 'It's kind of a shared dream.' Stop dreaming, stop continually making decisions to maintain it, and ivy creeps up the walls."
--Jason Fagone


"Poem for People That Are Understandably Too Busy to Read Poetry"
Relax. This won't last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there's a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he'll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you're busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it's sex you've always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party's unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don’t think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don't know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it's needed. For it's apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I'll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don't give anything for this poem.
It doesn't expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you're not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here's what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There's an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You're beautiful for as long as you live.
--Stephen Dunn


"Society is the most powerful concoction in the world and society has no existence whatsoever."
--Virginia Woolf, Orlando


"Maggid"
The courage to let go of the door, the handle.
The courage to shed the familiar walls whose very
stains and leaks are comfortable as the little moles
of the upper arm; stains that recall a feast,
a child's naughtiness, a loud blistering storm
that slapped the roof hard, pouring through.

The courage to abandon the graves dug into the hill,
the small bones of children and the brittle bones
of the old whose marrow hunger had stolen;
the courage to desert the tree planted and only
begun to bear; the riverside where promises were
shaped; the street where the empty pots were broken.

The courage to leave the place whose language you learned
as early as your own, whose customs however
dangerous or demeaning, bind you like a halter
you have learned to pull inside, to move your load;
the land fertile with the blood spilled on it;
the roads mapped and annotated for survival.

The courage to walk out of the pain that is known
into the pain that cannot be imagined,
mapless, walking into the wilderness, going
barefoot with a canteen into the desert;
stuffed in the stinking hold of a rotting ship
sailing off the map into dragons' mouths.

Cathay, India, Serbia, goldeneh medina,
leaving bodies by the way like abandoned treasure.
So they walked out of Egypt. So they bribed their way
out of Russia under loaves of straw; so they steamed
out of the bloody smoking charnelhouse of Europe
on overloaded freighters forbidden all ports--

out of pain into death or freedom or a different
painful dignity, into squalor and politics.
We Jews are all born of wanderers, with shoes
under our pillows and a memory of blood that is ours
raining down. We honor only those Jews who changed
tonight, those who chose the desert over bondage,

who walked into the strange and became strangers
and gave birth to children who could look down
on them standing on their shoulders for having
been slaves. We honor those who let go of everything
but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.
--Marge Piercy


"The Resemblance between Your Life and a Dog"
I never intended to have this life, believe me--
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain.

It's good if you can accept your life--you'll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can't believe how much you've changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you've ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can't quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He's been hungry for miles,
Doesn't particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.
--Robert Bly


"[...]the things of night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist..."
--Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


"Never think yourself singular, never think your own case much harder than other people's. Once you begin to take yourself seriously as a leader or as a follower, then you become a self-conscious, biting, and scratching little animal whose work is not of the slightest value or importance to anybody. Think of yourself rather as something much humbler and less spectacular, but to my mind, far more interesting--a poet in whom live all the poets of the past, from whom all poets in time to come will spring."
--Virginia Woolf, "A Letter to a Young Poet"


"I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance; for fear of becoming slack and untidy."
--Virginia Woolf


"Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."
--Chinua Achebe


"People create stories create people; or rather, stories create people create stories."
--Chinua Achebe


"I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is."
--Alan Watts


"We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: 'He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.' "
--Chinua Achebe


"When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool."
--Chinua Achebe


"While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary."
--Chinua Achebe


"It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have--otherwise their surviving would have no meaning."
--Chinua Achebe


"That we are surrounded by deep mysteries is known to all but the incurably ignorant."
--Chinua Achebe


"Postscript"
Even as the sun rises,
the darkness approaches.
You are the monster of your own campfire story,
and the telling of it
has been your life's noblest deed.

You can't bear to be alone,
but this is the best evidence you have
that you're still here.

In a charming café a thousand miles away,
a couple sits across from one another
and reads the news in silence.
It's up to you to choose
what happens next--it always has been--
and it's okay to choose not much.
Some ice snaps in a glass.
How still the world is.
--Dobby Gibson


"We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"At times it seems to me that I am living my life backwards, and that at the approach of old age my real youth will begin. My soul was born covered with wrinkles--wrinkles my ancestors and parents most assiduously put there and that I had the greatest trouble removing."
--André Gide
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The foolish reject what they see and not what they think; the wise reject what they think and not what they see."
--Huangbo Xiyun


"We have art so that we may not perish by the truth."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"A writer keeps an interior map of bookstores, like a hungry person and soup kitchens. I remember where bookstores are. I like to go in them, just to be among books and the people who like them. I know who else will be there: needy people like me, who walk slowly along the shelves and touch the spines. People who pull out a volume and open it, read a little, just to remind themselves of how they love this volume, this writer. People who may buy a book they hadn't thought they needed. People who believe that this soup is important, who know how it fills us up and warms our bones."
--Roxana Robinson, "Phantom Bookstores" (here)


"Ice Palace"
Another ice palace. Another demi-
paradise where all desires
are named and thus created,
and then almost satisfied. Hotel
might be an accurate label.

Not made of glass and marzipan
and steel, and jewel-toned water,
and opal gelatin that glows
like phosphorescent deep-sea fish, as
you might think at first. But no,

it's only dreams, it's only
clouds of breath formed into
words: the heavenly bed, the all-
you-can-eat breakfast. Invisible hands
bring food, smooth down

the sheets, turn on the lights,
cause violins to lullaby
the sugared air, clean out the wad of hair
you left in the porcelain shower,
and place a rose on your pillow

when you're not there. Where
is the fearful beast who runs the show
and longs for kisses?
Where are the bodies that were once
attached to all those hands?

Backstage it's always carnage.
Red petals on the floor.
You hope they're petals. Don't unlock
the one forbidden door,
the one inscribed

Staff Only. Do not look
in the last and smallest room, oh
dearest, do not look.
--Margaret Atwood


"What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it."
--Jiddu Krishnamurti


"Those Winter Sundays"
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
--Robert Hayden


"The Extinct"
Imagine I'm the last woman on earth,
the snowiest plover, the loneliest

deep-sea-swimming whale. It's not my fault, but
it might be. Should I keep changing until

I become something that has an other?
I've tried that. What else can I do for love?

Now not even the gray wolves listen to my
long litany of failures. They know I'm just

putting this self-sadness in my mouth--
a polar bear crunching seal bones between

her teeth--to get what little I can from it.
They still won't let me blame myself:

When I tell them my name isn't a song
to sing, they call it back to me again and again.
--Keetje Kuipers


"There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind--wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's own feet going seem to come from a far-off place."
--Toni Morrison, Beloved


"First Poem for You"
I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can't see them. I'm sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you

to me, taking you until we're spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They'll last until
you're seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.
--Kim Addonizio


"The rage of the disesteemed is personally fruitless, but it is also absolutely inevitable; this rage, so generally discounted, even among the people whose daily bread it is, is one of the things that makes history. Rage can only with difficulty, and never entirely, be brought under the domination of the intelligence and is therefore not susceptible to any arguments whatever. [...] Also, rage cannot be hidden, it can only be dissembled. This dissembling deludes the thoughtless, and strengthens rage, and adds, to rage, contempt."
--James Baldwin, "A Stranger in the Village"


"Again, even when the worst has been said, to betray a belief is not by any means to put oneself beyond its power; the betrayal of a belief is not the same thing as ceasing to believe. If this were not so there would be no moral standards in the world at all. Yet one must also recognize that morality is based on ideas and ideas are dangerous--dangerous because ideas can only lead to action and where the action leads no man can say. And dangerous in this respect: that confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one's beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses."
--James Baldwin


"The cathedral at Chartres, I have said, says something to the people of this village which it cannot say to me; but it is important to understand that this cathedral says something to me which it cannot say to them. Perhaps they are struck by the power of the spires, the glory of the windows; but they have known God, after all, longer than I have known him, and in a different way, and I am terrified by the slippery bottomless well to be found in the crypt, down which heretics were hurled to death, and by the obscene, inescapable gargoyles jutting out of the stone and seeming to say that God and the devil can never be divorced. I doubt that the villagers think of the devil when they face a cathedral because they have never been identified with the devil. But I must accept the status which myth, if nothing else, gives me in the West before I can hope to change the myth."
--James Baldwin


"I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world--which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces of human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white--owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation that could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us--very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will--that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists in remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."
--James Baldwin


I shall know why--when Time is over--
And I have ceased to wonder why--
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky--

He will tell me what "Peter" promised--
And I--for wonder at his woe--
I shall forget the drop of Anguish
That scalds me now--that scalds me now!
--Emily Dickinson


No, I wasn't meant to love and be loved.
If I'd lived longer, I would have waited longer.

Knowing you are faithless keeps me alive and hungry.
Knowing you faithful would kill me with joy.

Delicate are you, and your vows are delicate, too,
so easily do they break.

You are a laconic marksman. You leave me
not dead but perpetually dying.

I want my friends to heal me, succor me.
Instead, I get analysis.

Conflagrations that would make stones drip blood
are campfires compared to my anguish.

Two-headed, inescapable anguish!--
Love's anguish or the anguish of time.

Another dark, severing, incommunicable night.
Death would be fine, if I only died once.

I would have liked a solitary death,
not this lavish funeral, this grave anyone can visit.

You are mystical, Ghalib, and, also, you speak beautifully.
Are you a saint, or just drunk as usual?
--Mirza Ghalib, translated from the Urdu by Vijay Seshardi


"Sailing to Byzantium"
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
--Those dying generations--at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
--W. B. Yeats


"Mid-Term Break"
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble."
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurse.

Next morning I went up to the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.
--Seamus Heaney


"For the Union Dead"
"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gardens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns...

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessed break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
--Robert Lowell
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The taste for quotations (and for the juxtaposition of incongruous quotations) is a Surrealist taste."
--Susan Sontag, On Photography


"The contingency of photographs confirms that everything is perishable; the arbitrariness of photographic evidence indicates that reality is fundamentally unclassifiable. Reality is summed up in an array of casual fragments--an endlessly alluring, poignantly reductive way of dealing with the world. Illustrating that partly jubilant, partly condescending relation to reality that is the rallying point of Surrealism, the photographer's insistence that everything is real also implies that the real is not enough. By proclaiming a fundamental discontent with reality, Surrealism bespeaks a posture of alienation which has now become a general attitude in those parts of the world which are politically powerful, industrialized, and camera-wielding. Why else would reality ever be thought of as insufficient, flat, overordered, shallowly rational? In the past, a discontent with reality expressed itself as a longing for another world. In modern society, a discontent with reality expresses itself forcefully and most hauntingly by the longing to reproduce this one. As if only by looking at reality in the form of an object--through the fix of the photograph--is it really real, that is, surreal."
--Susan Sontag


"Freed from the necessity of having to make narrow choices (as painters did) about what images were worth contemplating, because of the rapidity with which cameras recorded anything, photographs made seeing into a new kind of project: as if seeing itself, pursued with sufficient avidity and single-mindedness, could indeed reconcile the claims of truth and the need to find the world beautiful. Once an object of wonder because of its capacity to render reality faithfully as well as despised at first for its base accuracy, the camera has ended by effecting a tremendous promotion of the value of appearances. Appearances as the camera records them. Photographs do not simply render reality--realistically. It is reality which is scrutinized, and evaluated, for its fidelity to photographs."
--Susan Sontag


"Insofar as photography does peel away the dry wrappers of habitual seeing, it creates another habit of seeing: both intense and cool, solicitous and detached; charmed by the insignificant detail, addicted to incongruity. But photographic seeing has to be constantly renewed with new shocks, whether of subject matter or technique, so as to produce the impression of violating ordinary vision."
--Susan Sontag


"As photographers describe it, picture-taking is both a limitless technique for appropriating the objective world and an unavoidably solipsistic expression of the singular self. Photographs depict realities that already exist, though only the camera can disclose them. And they depict an individual temperament, discovering itself through the camera's cropping of reality. For Moholy-Nagy the genius of photography lies in its ability to render 'an objective portrait: the individual to be photographed so that the photographic result shall not be encumbered with subjective intention.' For Lange every portrait of another person is a 'self-portrait' of the photographer, as for Minor White--promoting 'self-discovery through a camera'--landscape photographs are really 'inner landscapes.' The two ideals are antithetical. Insofar as photography is (or should be) about the world, the photographer counts for little, but insofar as it is the instrument of intrepid, questing subjectivity, the photographer is all."
--Susan Sontag


"Such images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask. While a painting, even one that meets photographic standards of resemblance, is never more than the stating of an interpretation, a photograph is never less than the registering of an emanation (light waves reflected by objects)--a material vestige of its subject in a way that no painting can be. Between two fantasy alternatives, that Holbein the Younger had lived long enough to have painted Shakespeare or that a prototype of the camera had been invented early enough to have photographed him, most Bardolators would choose the photograph. This is not just because it would presumably show what Shakespeare really looked like, for even if the hypothetical photograph were faded, barely legible, a brownish shadow, we would probably still prefer it to another glorious Holbein. Having a photograph of Shakespeare would be like having a nail from the True Cross.

"Most contemporary expressions of concern that an image-world is replacing the real one continue to echo, as Feuerbach did, the Platonic depreciation of the image: true insofar as it resembles something real, sham because it is no more than a resemblance. But this venerable naive realism is somewhat beside the point in the era of photographic images, for its blunt contrast between the image ('copy') and the thing depicted ('original')--which Plato repeatedly illustrates with the example of a painting--does not fit a photograph in so simple a way. Neither does the contrast help in understanding image-making as its origins, when it was a practical, magical activity, a means of appropriating or gaining power over something. The further back we go in history, as E.H. Gombrich has observed, the less sharp is the distinction between images and real things; in primitive societies, the thing and its image were simply two different, that is, physically distinct, manifestations of the same energy or spirit. Hence, the supposed efficacy of images in propitiating and gaining control over powerful presences. Those powers, those presences were present in them.

"For defenders of the real from Plato to Feuerbach to equate image with mere appearance--that is, to presume that the image is absolutely distinct from the object depicted--is part of that process of desacralization which separates us irrevocably from the world of sacred times and places in which an image was taken to participate in the reality of the object depicted. What defines the originality of photography is that, at the very moment in the long, increasingly secular history of painting when secularism is entirely triumphant, it revives--in wholly secular terms--something like the primitive status of images. Our irrepressible feeling that the photographic process is something magical has a genuine basis. No one takes an easel painting to be in any sense co-substantial with its subject; it only represents or refers. But a photograph is not only like its subject, a homage to the subject. It is part of, an extension of that subject; and a potent means of acquiring it, of gaining control over it."
--Susan Sontag


"Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, understood as recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still. Or they enlarge a reality that is felt to be shrunk, hollowed out, perishable, remote. One can't possess reality, one can possess (and be possessed by) images--as, according to Proust, most ambitious of voluntary prisoners, one can't possess the present but one can possess the past. Nothing could be more unlike the self-sacrificial travail of an artist like Proust than the effortlessness of picture-taking, which must be the sole activity resulting in accredited works of art in which a single movement, a touch of the finger, produces a complete work. While the Proustian labors presuppose that reality is distant, photography implies instant access to the real. But the results of this practice of instant access are another way of creating distance. To possess the world in the form of images is, precisely, to reexperience the unreality and remoteness of the real.

"The strategy of Proust's realism presumes distance from what is normally experienced as real, the present, in order to reanimate what is usually available only in a remote and shadowy form, the past--which is where the present becomes in his sense real, that is, something that can be possessed. In this effort photographs were of no help. Whenever Proust mentions photographs, he does so disparagingly: as a synonym for a shallow, too exclusively visual, merely voluntary relation to the past, whose yield is insignificant compared with the deep discoveries to be made by responding to cues given by all the senses--the technique he called 'involuntary memory.' One can't imagine the Overture to Swann's Way ending with the narrator's coming across a snapshot of the parish church at Combray and the savoring of that visual crumb, instead of the taste of the humble madeleine dipped in tea, making an entire part of his past spring into view. But this is not because a photograph cannot evoke memories (it can, depending on the quality of the viewer rather than of the photograph) but because of what Proust makes clear about his own demands upon imaginative recall, that it be not just extensive and accurate but give the texture and essence of things. And by considering photographs only so far as he could use them, as an instrument of memory, Proust somewhat misconstrues what photographs are: not so much an instrument of memory as an invention of it or a replacement."
--Susan Sontag


"Photography, which has so many narcissistic uses, is also a powerful instrument for depersonalizing our relation to the world; and the two uses are complementary. Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away. It offers, in one easy, habit-forming activity, both participation and alienation in our own lives and those of others--allowing us to participate, while confirming alienation. War and photography now seem inseparable, and plane crashes and other horrific accidents always attract people with cameras. A society which makes it normative to aspire never to experience privation, failure, misery, pain, dread disease, and in which death itself is regarded not as natural and inevitable but as a cruel, unmerited disaster, creates a tremendous curiosity about these events--a curiosity that is partly satisfied through picture-taking. The feeling of being exempt from calamity stimulates interest in looking at painful pictures, and looking at them suggests and strengthens the feeling that one is exempt. Partly it is because one is 'here,' not 'there,' and partly it is the character of inevitability that all events acquire when they are transmuted into images. In the real world, something is happening and no one knows what is going to happen. In the image-world, it has happened, and it will forever happen in that way."
--Susan Sontag


"Our unlimited use of photographic images not only reflects but gives shape to this society, one unified by the denial of conflict. Our very notion of the world--the capitalist twentieth century's 'one world'--is like a photographic overview. The world is 'one' not because it is united but because a tour of its diverse contents does not reveal conflict but only an even more astounding diversity. This spurious unity of the world is effected by translating its contents into images. Images are always compatible, or can be made compatible, even when the realities they depict are not."
--Susan Sontag


"A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex. And it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. The camera's twin capacities, to subjectivize reality and to objectify it, ideally serve these needs and strengthen them. Cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers). The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images."
--Susan Sontag


"The final reason for the need to photograph everything lies in the very logic of consumption itself. To consume means to burn, to use up--and, therefore, to need to be replenished. As we make images and consume them, we need still more images; and still more. But images are not a treasure for which the world must be ransacked; they are precisely what is at hand wherever the eye falls. The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied; first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and, second, because the project is finally self-devouring. The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion. Our oppressive sense of the transience of everything is more acute since cameras gave us the means to 'fix' the fleeting moment. We consume images at an even faster rate and, as Balzac suspected cameras used up layers of the body, images consume reality. Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."
--Susan Sontag


"Your photography is a record of our living, for anyone who really sees. You may see and be affected by other people's ways, you may even use them to find your own, but you will have eventually to free yourself of them. That is what Nietzsche meant when he said, 'I have just read Schopenhaur, now I have to get rid of him.' He knew how insidious other people's ways could be, particularly those which have the forcefulness of profound experience, if you let them get between you and your own vision."
--Paul Strand


"As I progressed further with my project, it became obvious that it was really unimportant where I chose to photograph. The particular place simply proved an excuse to produce work...you can only see what you are ready to see--what mirrors your mind at that particular time."
--George Tice


"In the spring of 1921, two automatic photographic machines, recently invented abroad, were installed in Prague, which reproduced six or ten or more exposures of the same person on a single print.

"When I took such a series of photographs to Kafka I said light-heartedly: 'For a couple of krone one can have oneself photographed from every angle. The apparatus is a mechanical Know-Thyself.'

" 'You mean to say, the Mistake-Thyself,' said Kafka, with a faint smile.

"I protested: 'What do you mean? The camera cannot lie!'

" 'Who told you that?' Kafka leaned his head toward his shoulder. Photography concentrates one's eye on the superficial. For that reason it obscures the hidden life which glimmers through the outlines of things like a play of light and shade. One can't catch that even with the sharpest lens. One has to grope for it by feeling...This automatic camera doesn't multiply men's eyes but only gives a fantastically simplified fly's eye view.' "
--from Gustav Janouch's Conversation with Kafka
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Understanding the world for a man is reducing it to the human, stamping it with his seal. The cat's universe is not the universe of the anthill. The truism 'All thought is anthropomorphic' has no other meaning. Likewise, the mind that aims to understand reality can consider itself satisfied only by reducing it to terms of thought. If man realized that the universe like him can love and suffer, he would be reconciled."
--Albert Camus, translated from French by Justin O'Brien, "The Myth of Sisyphus"

"And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes--how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world. Were I to trace its entire relief with my finger, I should not know any more. And you give me the choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach me but that are not sure. A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is this condition in which I can have peace only be refusing to know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up paradoxes."
--Albert Camus

"The rose petal, the milestone, or the human hand are as important as love, desire, or the laws of gravity. Thinking ceases to be unifying or making a semblance familiar in the guise of a major principle. Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment. What justifies thought is its extreme consciousness."
--Albert Camus

"One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity. It is an insistence upon an impossible transparency. It challenges the world anew every second. Just as danger provided man the unique opportunity of seizing awareness, so metaphysical revolt extends awareness to the whole of experience. It is that constant presence of man in his own eyes. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."
--Albert Camus

"In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the absurd in the same death. But I know that in order to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. It escapes suicide to the extent that it is simultaneously awareness and rejection of death. It is, at the extreme limit of the condemned man's last thought, that shoelace that despite everything he sees a few yards away, on the very brink of his dizzying fall. The contrary of suicide, in fact, is the man condemned to death."
--Albert Camus

"A mime of the ephemeral, the actor trains and perfects himself only in appearances. The theatrical convention is that the heart expresses itself and communicates itself only through gestures and in the body--or through the voice, which is as much of the soul as of the body. The rule of that art insists that everything be magnified and transcend into the flesh. If it were essential on the stage to love as people really love, to employ that irreplaceable voice of the heart, to look as people contemplate in life, our speech would be in code. But here silences must make themselves heard. Love speaks up louder, and immobility itself becomes spectacular. The body is king. Not everyone can be 'theatrical,' and this unjustly maligned word covers a whole aesthetic and a whole ethic. Half a man's life is spent in implying, in turning away, and in keeping silent. Here the actor is the intruder. He breaks the spell chaining that soul, and at last the passions can rush onto their stage. They speak in every gesture; they live only through shouts and cries. Thus the actor creates his characters for display. He outlines or sculptures them and slips into their imaginary form, transfusing his blood into their phantoms."
--Albert Camus

"Through an absurd miracle, it is the body that also brings knowledge. I should never really understand Iago unless I played his part. It is not enough to hear him, for I grasp him only at the moment when I see him. Of the absurd character the actor consequently has the monotony, that single, oppressive silhouette, simultaneously strange and familiar, that he carries about from hero to hero. There, too, the great dramatic work contributes to this unity of tone. This is where the actor contradicts himself: the same and yet so various, so many souls summed up in a single body. Yet it is the absurd contradiction itself, that individual who wants to achieve everything and live everything, that useless attempt, that ineffectual persistence. What always contradicts itself nevertheless joins in him. He is at that point where body and mind converge, where the mind, tired of its defeats, turns toward its most faithful ally. 'And blest are those,' says Hamlet, 'whose blood and judgment are so well commingled that they are not a pipe for fortune's finger to sound what stop she please.' "
--Albert Camus

"We have art in order not to die of the truth."
--Friedrich Nietzsche

"[The work of art] marks both the death of an experience and its multiplication. It is a sort of monotonous and passionate repetition of the themes already orchestrated by the world: the body, inexhaustible image on the pediment of temples, forms or colors, numbers or grief. It is therefore not indifferent, as a conclusion, to encounter once again the principal themes of this essay in the wonderful and childish world of the creator. It would be wrong to see a symbol in it and think that the work of art can be considered at last as a refuge for the absurd. It is itself an absurd phenomenon, and we are concerned merely with its description. It does not offer an escape for the intellectual ailment. Rather, it is one of the symptoms of that ailment which reflects it throughout a man's whole thought. But for the first time it makes the mind get outside of itself and places it in opposition to others, not for it to get lost but to show it clearly the blind path that all have entered upon. In the time of the absurd reasoning, creation follows indifference and discovery. It marks the point from which absurd passions spring and where the reasoning stops. Its place in this essay is justified in this way."
--Albert Camus

"To think is first of all to create a world."
--Albert Camus

"Art can never be so well served as by a negative thought. Its dark and humiliated proceedings are as necessary to the understanding of a great work as black is to white. To work and to create 'for nothing,' to sculpture in clay, to know that one's creation has no future, to see one's work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries--this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions. Performing these two tasks simultaneously, negating on the one hand and magnifying on the other, is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors."
--Albert Camus

"There are words I have never really understood, such as 'sin.' Yet I believe these men have never sinned against life. For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. These men have not cheated. Gods of summer they were at twenty by their enthusiasm for life, and they still are, deprived of all hope. I have seen two of them die. They were full of horror, but silent. It is better thus. From Pandora's box, where all the ills of humanity swarmed, the Greeks drew out hope after all the others, as the most dreadful of all. I know no more stirring symbol; for, contrary to the general belief, hope equals resignation. And to live is not to resign oneself."
--Albert Camus, "Summer in Algiers"

"Presumption, regression of progress."
--Heraclitus
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"If we live in too close proximity to a person, it is as if we kept touching a good etching with our bare fingers; one day we have poor, dirty paper in our hands and nothing more. A human being's soul is likewise worn down by continual touching; at least it finally appeared that way to us--we never see its original design and beauty again."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"With new friends, what you have in common is more circumstantial: colleges, jobs, hobbies, acquaintances-of-the-hour. What old friends share goes deeper than that. Your lives can branch off in completely different directions, but always, you share that knot of a past--heartbreaks and sleepovers and screened-in porches--and the raw, peculiar memory of yourself which, in part, belongs to them."
--Elise Juska, Getting over Jack Wagner


"All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel.

"All of them?

"Sure, he says. Think about it. There's escaping from the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, taming the wolves. Being thrown to the wolves, or throwing others to the wolves so the wolves will eat them instead of you. Running with the wolf pack. Turning into a wolf. Best of all, turning into the head wolf. No other decent stories exist."
--Margaret Atwood


"Upon Neglecting the E in Plumes"
I want white plums.

I admit the inspiration for this desire
and impulse
is my own dyslexia; the inability to read,
as my mother called it once,
that which I do not want to.

So this is the distillation of poetry,
the true profession of the poet;
to take feathers the color of snow
and insinuate fruit.
--Jaida Jones
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"One does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure."
--Gertrude Stein

"Ultimately nobody can get more out of things, including books, than he already knows. For what one lacks access to from experience one will have no ear...This is, in the end, the originality of my experience. Whoever thought he had understood something of me, had made up something out of me after his own image."
--Friedrich Nietzsche

"If it can be done, why do it?"
--Gertrude Stein
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it's the only one you have."
--Emile Chartier


"Today Is the Piano's Birthday"
Today is the piano's birthday. Yesterday it was found weeping in the garden. Mother was not there, father was gone. But today is the piano's birthday...

Under the balalaika tree the children touch it. The piano's first pedals hum.

Hurrah! shout the children. The piano is on holiday! They sing the birthday song. They bound up and down. They strike the exact note without looking, without looking the piano writes a song for the children...

Plinking, planking, plonk--the piano conducts the children through a small wood of ivory. The children sing with their feet. They call to mother who is dreaming on the lawn, to father who is at the office polishing his machines...

The piano falls into a dream. The children listen. From far off, birds with the faces of women enter the garden. They lie down. They call to the children. The children listen. They lean into the darkness. They decide. They curl inside the piano's birthday. The children are the size of a crotchet. The piano grows around them.

The piano is being dreamed. The children are the stories. They are listening...to mother wake on the lawn and touch the space around her...to father close the office door...
And today is the piano's birthday.

If we listen--we can hear mother call them, we can hear father enter the house, carefully. If we listen--we can hear the very first song the children sing, the very first dream the piano dreams...we can hear...mother and father touch each other with wonder...
--Michael Harlow


"Sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness."
--Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms


"Vimes grinned. Funny, he thought, how I never feel really alive until someone tries to kill me. That's when you notice that the sky is blue. Actually, not very blue right now. There's big clouds up there. But I'm noticing them."
--Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms


"Now I know at last what it felt like to be in love: like a bruised pomelo, like a drowned cat, like a toothache, like a lost button, like a mop."
--Gilda Cordero-Fernando


"How do people, like, not curse? How is it possible? There are all these gaps in speech where you just want to put a 'fuck.' I'll tell you who the most admirable people in the world are: newscasters. If that was me, I'd be like, 'And the motherfuckers flew the fucking plane right into the Twin Towers.' How could you not, if you're a human being? Maybe they're not so admirable. Maybe they're robot zombies."
--Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down


"Find value in what we've been taught is worthless. Find good in what the world says is evil."
--Chuck Palahniuk


"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"There Is Only One of Everything"
Not a tree but the tree,
we saw, it will never exist, split by the wind and bending down
like that again. What will push out of the earth

later, making it summer, will not be
grass, leaves, repetition, there will
have to be other words. When my

eyes close language vanishes. The cat
with the divided face, half black half orange
rests in my scruffy fur coat, I drink tea,

fingers curved around the cup, impossible
to duplicate these flavors. The table
and freak plates glow softly, consuming themselves,

I look out at you and you occur
in this winter kitchen, random as trees or sentences,
entering me, fading like them, in time you will disappear

but the way you dance by yourself
on the tile floor to a worn song, flat and mournful,
so delighted, spoon waved in one hand, wisps of roughened hair

sticking up from your head, it's your surprised
body, pleasure I like. I can even say it,
though only once and it won't

last: I want this. I want
this.
--Margaret Atwood


"Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information."
--Kurt Vonnegut


"You recognize a true friend by how he lies to you."
--Alessandro Morandotti
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"One must have chaos in one to give birth to a dancing star."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"There are many souls one will never uncover, unless one invents them first."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"Holy"
I eat only sleep and air
and everyone thinks I'm dumb
But I'm smart because I've figured it out
I am slimmer than you are
And I am burning my skin off little by little
until I reach bone and self
until I get to where I am essential
until I get to where I am
Food doesn't even tempt me anymore
Because I am so full of energy and sense
I can even pass by water now
Because I am living off the parts of me that I don't need anymore
I could feel the slow drips of pain before
swirling inside where my lungs should have been
now I'm clean inside
I threw out hundreds of things that I didn't need anymore
All my dresses and bras
Stupid things like jeans and socks
Most days I float through the house naked so I can see myself in the mirrors
I have hundreds of them everywhere
And they talk back to me all the time
They keep me true and pure
They make sure I'm still here
When I know what I had to do
I took all my notebooks, all my manuscripts
And ate them page by page so I could take my words with me
I can finally control my life and even death
And I will die slowly like steam escaping from a pipe
This is my greatest performance
and all of the actresses who won my parts will say how wonderful
to let yourself go that mad
how wonderful to go on this kind of journey
and not care if you come back to tell the story
I scratch words on the walls now so people will visit this museum
and know how someone like me ends up like this
(they'll say there is art in here somewhere)
Everything that comes out of me is sacred
every fingernail, every eyelash, every hair
starvation is sacred and I scratch my bones against the windows at night
I light candles and feel myself evaporate
this body is a little church, a little temple
You can't see me now because I've gone inside
My family doesn't call anymore
My friends don't call anymore
You can't hurt me anymore. They can't hurt me anymore
Only I can
And that's okay
I don't need them anymore. I can live off me
I speak to me. I dance with me
I eat me
When they find me, I'll have a little smile on my face
And they'll wrap me in a white cloth and lay me in the ground
and say they don't understand
but I do. I don't hurt anymore
I'm not lonely anymore. I'm not sad I'm not pretty anymore
I made it through
I feel so holy and clean when I stretch out on the floor and sing
sometimes god comes in for a minute and says I'm doing fine
I'm almost there
Everyday I get a little closer to vanishing
Sometimes I can't stand up because the room moves under my feet
and I smile because I'm almost there, I'm almost an angel
One day when I am thin enough I'll go outside fluttering my hands so I can fly
And I will be so slight
That I will pass through all of you silently like wind
--Nicole Blackman


"Daughter"
One day I'll give birth to a tiny baby girl
and when she's born she'll scream and I'll make sure
she never stops.

I will kiss her before I lay her down
and will tell her a story so she knows
how it is and how it must be for her to survive.

I'll tell her about the power of water
the seduction of paper
the promise of gasoline
and the hope of blood.

I'll teach her to shave eyebrows and
mark her skin.

I'll teach her that her body is
her greatest work of art.

I'll tell her to light things on fire
and keep them burning.

I'll teach her that the fire will not consume her,
that she must take it and use it.

I'll tell her to be tri-sexual, to try anything
to sleep with, fight with, pray with anyone,
just as long as she feels something.

I'll help her do her best when it rains.
I'll tell her to reinvent herself every twenty-eight days.
I'll teach her to develop all her selves,
the courageous ones,
the smart ones,
the dreaming ones,
the fast ones.

I'll teach her that she has an army inside her
that can save her life.

I'll tell her to say Fuck like other people say The
and when people are shocked
to ask them why they so fear a small quartet
of letters.

I'll make sure she always carries a pen
so she can take down the evidence.
If she has no paper, I'll teach her to
write everything down on her tongue,
write it on her thighs.

I'll help her to see that she will not find God
or salvation in a dark brick building
built by dead men.

I'll explain to her that it's better to regret the things
she has done than the things she hasn't.

I'll teach her to write her manifestos
on cocktail napkins.
I'll say she should make men lick her enterprise.

I'll teach her to talk hard.
I'll tell her that her skin is the
most beautiful dress she will ever wear.

I'll tell her that people must earn the right
to use her nickname,
that forced intimacy is an ugly thing.

I'll make her understand that she is worth more
with her clothes on.

I'll tell her that when the words finally flow too fast
and she has no use for a pen
that she must quit her job,
run out of the house in her bathrobe,
leaving the door open.
I'll teach her to follow the words.

I'll tell her to stand up
and head for the door
after she makes love.
When he asks her to
stay she'll say
she's got to
go.

I'll tell her that when she first bleeds
when she is a woman,
to go up to the roof at midnight,
reach her hands up to the sky and scream.

I'll teach her to be whole, to be holy,
to be so much that she doesn't even
need me anymore.
I'll tell her to go quickly and never come back.
I will make her stronger than me.

I'll say to her never forget what they did to you
and never let them know you remember.

Never forget what they did to you
and never let them know you remember.
--Nicole Blackman


"When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt."
--Henry J. Kaiser


"They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."
--George Carlin


"To travel is not to think, but to see things in succession, with one's life sensed in the measure of space. The monotony of landscapes slowly unrolling soothes our cares, infuses us with lightness and quiet, which the fevered traveler could never know on full-speed excursions. At the unhurried pace of horses stunned by the heat, the smallest accidents of the journey preserve their startling beauty. These are not fretful predicaments; rather, a calm and vital state of mind rules, which once belonged to all human races and is still preserved among us in the blood of nomads."
--Isabelle Eberhardt, In the Shadow of Islam


"Music, the knife without a hilt."
--Dorothy Dunnett
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"[The statue of David] was huge. From head to toe, he was simply enormous, and I don't just mean statuesque (rim shot!) but enormous like a sunset, or like an idea you can at best only half comprehend. It simply took my breath away. I walked around and around it, not because I felt I had to, but because I felt like it deserved that much attention from me. I found myself looking at each individual part closely, rather than the entire thing, because if I looked at the entire thing it would be like staring at the sun. It was such an unblinking portrayal of a person that it rose above any hackneyed hype about it. It flicked away all my cynicism about Seeing Art without flinching and just made me look. I walked out of there thinking, Now I am older."
--Flannery's letter to Adam, The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler


"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"Suicide"

Corpse A
THEY brought her in, a shattered small
Cocoon,
With a little bruised body like
A startled moon;
And all the subtle symphonies of her
A twilight rune.

Corpse B
THEY gave her hurried shoves this way
And that.
Her body shock-abbreviated
As a city cat.
She lay out listlessly like some small mug
Of beer gone flat.
--Djuna Barnes


"A Coat"

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Were it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it
Song, let them take it
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.
--W.B. Yeats


"Upon Discovering My Entire Solution to the Attainment of Immortality Erased from the Blackboard Except for the Word 'Save' "

If you have seen the snow
somewhere slowly fall
on a bicycle,
then you understand
all beauty will be lost
and that even loss
can be beautiful.
And if you have looked
at a winter garden
and seen not a winter garden
but a meditation on shape,
then you understand why
this season is not
known for its words,
the cold too much
about the slowing of matter,
not enough about the making of it.
So you are blessed
to forget this way:
jump rope in the ice melt,
a mitten that has lost its hand,
a sun that shines
as if it doesn't mean it.
And if in another season
you see a beautiful women
use her bare hands
to smooth wrinkles
from her expensive dress
for the sake of dignity,
but in so doing reveal
the outlines of her thighs,
then you will remember
surprise assumes a space
that has first been forgotten,
especially here, where we
rarely speak of it,
where we walk out onto the roofs
of frozen lakes
simply because we're stunned
we really can.
--Dobby Gibson


"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."
--unknown

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