“There is a darkness. It is for everyone. You don’t, as perhaps some imagine, try it, one foot into it like a barbershop ‘September Morn.’ Nor are lowered into it with visitor’s curiosity, as the old Eastern monarch was let down into the weeds inside a glass ball to observe the fishes. Nor are lifted straight out after an unlucky tumble, like a Napoleon from the mud of the Arcole where he had been standing up to his thoughtful nose while the Hungarian bullets broke the clay off the bank. Only some Greeks and admirers of theirs, in their liquid noon, where the friendship of beauty to human things was perfect, thought they were clearly divided from this darkness. And these Greeks too were in it. But still they are the admiration of the rest of the mud-sprung, famine-knifed, street-pounding, war-rattled, difficult, painstaking, kicked in the belly, grief and cartilage mankind, the multitude, some under a coal-sucking Vesuvius of chaos smoke, some inside a heaving Calcutta midnight, who very well know where they are.” – Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

“Before vice and shortcoming, admitted in the weariness of maturity, common enough and boring to make an extended showing of, there are, or are supposed to be, silken, unconscious, nature-painted times, like the pastoral of Sicilian shepherd lovers, or lions you can chase away with stones and golden snakes who scatter from their knots into the fissures of Eryx. Early scenes of life, I mean; for each separate person too, everyone beginning with Eden and passing through trammels, pains, distortions, and death into the darkness out of which, it is hinted, we may hope to enter permanently into the beginning again. There is horror of grayness, of the death-forerunning pinch, of scandalous mouth or of fear-eyes, and by whatever is caused by no recollection of happiness and no expectation of it either. But when there is no shepherd-Sicily, no free-hand nature-painting, but deep city vexation instead, and you are forced early into deep city aims, not sent in your ephod before Eli to start service in the temple, nor set on a horse by your weeping sisters to go and study Greek in Bogotá, but land in a poolroom—what can that lead to of the highest? And what happiness or misery-antidote can it offer instead of pipes or sheep or musical, milk-drinking innocence, or even merely nature walks with a pasty instructor in goggles, or fiddle lessons? Friends, human pals, men and brethren, there is no brief, digest, or shorthand way to say where it leads. Crusoe, alone with nature, under heaven, had a busy, complicated time of it with the unhuman itself, and I am in a crowd that yields results with much more difficulty and reluctance and am part of it myself.” – Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

“Then it happened. The lighted end of a cigarette touched me in the fleshy part of my upper left arm. That was all. It just felt like a sudden burn and nothing worse. The burned part did not seem to be any larger in area than that part which could be burned by the lighted end of a cigarette. At the time there was no feeling within the arm, that is, no feeling as to aches or pain … Then the second one hit. It nicked the top of my left shoulder. And again came the burning sensation, only this time the area affected seemed larger … And then the third one struck me … there came a crash. It sounded to me like someone had dropped a glass bottle into a porcelain bathtub … it seemed that everything in the world turned white … pure white … I did not know whether I was alive or dead, but I did know that my mind was still working … I brought my right hand up toward my face and placed it to the left of my nose. My fingers rested on something soft and wet. I withdrew the hand and looked at it. It was covered with blood. As I looked at it, I was not aware that my entire vision was confined to my right eye, although there was considerable pain in the entire left side of my face … a bullet striking the ground immediately under my left cheek bone had ricocheted upward, going completely through the left eye and then crashing out through my forehead, leaving the eyeball and upper eyelid completely halved, the lower eyelid torn away, and a compound fracture of the skull.” – Floyd Gibbons, “Wounded—How It Feels to Be Shot”

“How many concerns there are in the world, of which there’s no making head or tail, mostly because what persons do without any design is construed by such designing people, as chance to have their notice attracted to it, as having been designedly accomplished, and go on talking and talking till, instead of mending matters, they make them worse!” – Cao Xueqin, The Dream of the Red Chamber (trans. H. Bencraft Joly)

“The two words Yin and Yang are really one word; for when the Yang principle is exhausted, it becomes the Yin; and when the Yin is exhausted, it becomes Yang. And it isn’t that, at the exhaustion of the Yin, another Yang comes into existence; and that, at the exhaustion of the Yang, a second Yin arises.” – Cao Xueqin, The Dream of the Red Chamber (trans. H. Bencraft Joly)

“All things, whether in heaven or on earth, come into existence by the co-operation of the dual powers, the male and female. So all things, whether good or bad, novel or strange, and all those manifold changes and transformations arise entirely from the favourable or adverse influence exercised by the male and female powers. And though some things seldom seen by mankind might come to life, the principle at work is, after all, the same.” – Cao Xueqin, The Dream of the Red Chamber (trans. H. Bencraft Joly)

“The ordinary traveler, who never goes off the beaten route and who on this beaten route is carried by others, without himself doing anything or risking anything, does not need to show much more initiative and intelligence than an express package … If this kind of traveler is a writer, he can of course do admirable work, and work of the highest value; but the value comes because he is a writer and observer, not because of any particular credit that attaches to him as a traveler.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness (ed. Dain Borges)

“We made our noonday halt on an island where very tall trees grew, bearing fruits that were pleasant to the taste. Other trees on the island were covered with rich red and yellow blossoms, and masses of delicate blue flowers and of star-shaped white flowers grew underfoot. Hither and thither across the surface of the river flew swallows, with so much white in their plumage that as they flashed in the sun, they seemed to have snow-white bodies, borne by dark wings. The current of the river grew swifter; there were stretches of broken water that were almost rapids; the laboring engine strained and sobbed as with increasing difficulty it urged forward the launch … At nightfall we moored beside the bank, where the forest was open enough to permit a comfortable camp. That night the ants ate large holes in [expedition naturalist Leo] Miller’s mosquito netting and almost devoured his socks and shoelaces.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness (ed. Dain Borges)

“The poorer people of the backcountry everywhere suffer because of the harsh and improper laws of debt. In practice, these laws have resulted in establishing a system of peonage, such as has grown up here and there in our own nation. A radical change is needed in this matter; and [Colonel Rondon] is fighting for the change. In school matters, the colonel has precisely the ideas of our wisest and most advanced men and women in the United States … [We] talked over school matters at length and were in hearty accord as to the vital educational needs of both Brazil and the United States: the need of combining industrial with purely mental training, and the need of having the widespread popular education, which is and must be supported and paid for by the government, made a purely governmental and absolutely nonsectarian function, administered by the state alone, without interference with, not furtherance of, the beliefs of any reputable church.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness (ed. Dain Borges)

“Now and then we were bitten and stung by the venomous fire ants, and ticks crawled upon us. Once we were assailed by more serious foes, in the shape of a nest of marabunta wasps, not the biggest kind, but about the size of our hornets. We were at the time passing through dense jungle, under tall trees, in a spot where the down timber, holes, tangled creepers, and thorns made the going difficult. The leading men were not assailed, although they were now and then cutting the trail. Colonel Rondon and I were in the middle of the column, and the swarm attacked us; both of us were badly stung on the face, neck, and hands, the colonel even more severely than I was. He wheeled and rode to the rear and I to the front; our horses were stung too; and we went at a rate that a moment previously I would have deemed impossible over such ground. In these forests the multitude of insects that bite, sting, devour, and prey upon other creatures, often with accompaniments of atrocious suffering, passes belief. The very pathetic myth of ‘beneficent nature’ could not deceive even the least wise being if he once saw for himself the iron cruelty of life in the tropics. Of course ‘nature’—in common parlance a wholly inaccurate term, by the way, especially when used as if to express a single entity—is entirely ruthless, no less so as regards types than as regards individuals, and entirely indifferent to good or evil, and works out her ends or no ends with utter disregard of pain and woe.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness (ed. Dain Borges)

“To sit on a quiet deck, to have a starlit sky the only light above or about, to hear the water kissing the prow of the ship, is, to me, paradise. They can talk of the companionship of men, the splendor of the sun, the softness of moonlight, the beauty of music, but give me a willow chair on a quiet deck, the world with its worries and noise and prejudices lost in distance, the glare of the sun, the cold light of the moon blotted out by the dense blackness of night. Let me rest rocked gently by the rolling sea, in a nest of velvety darkness, my only light the soft twinkling of the myriads of stars in the quiet sky above; my music, the round of the kissing waters, cooling the brain and easing the pulse; my companionship, dreaming my own dreams. Give me that, and I have happiness in its perfection.” – Nellie Bly, The Race Around the World (ed. Matthew Goodman)

“If the human mind, ordained by an omniscient Creator, had been intended to be what it has become, exacting, inquiring, agitated, tormented—so different from mere animal thought and resignation—would the world which was created to receive the beings which we now are have been this unpleasant little park for small game, this salad patch, this wooded, rocky and spherical kitchen garden where your improvident Providence had destined us to live naked, in caves or under trees, nourished on the flesh of slaughtered animals, our brethren, or on raw vegetables nourished by the sun and the rain? But it is sufficient to reflect for a moment, in order to understand that this world was not made for such creatures as we are. Thought, which is developed by a miracle in the nerves of the cells in our brain, powerless, ignorant and confused as it is, and as it will always remain, makes all of us who are intellectual beings eternal and wretched exiles on earth. Look at this earth, as God has given it to those who inhabit it. Is it not visibly and solely made, planted and covered with forests for the sake of animals? What is there for us? Nothing. And for them, everything, and they have nothing to do but to eat or go hunting and eat each other, according to their instincts, for God never foresaw gentleness and peaceable manners; He only foresaw the death of creatures which were bent on destroying and devouring each other. Are not the quail, the pigeon and the partridge the natural prey of the hawk? the sheep, the stag and the ox that of the great flesh-eating animals, rather than meat to be fattened and served up to us with truffles, which have been unearthed by pigs for our special benefit? As to ourselves, the more civilized, intellectual and refined we are, the more we ought to conquer and subdue that animal instinct, which represents the will of God in us. And so, in order to mitigate our lot as brutes, we have discovered and made everything, beginning with houses, then exquisite food, sauces, sweetmeats, pastry, drink, stuffs, clothes, ornaments, beds, mattresses, carriages, railways and innumerable machines, besides arts and sciences, writing and poetry. Every ideal comes from us as do all the amenities of life, in order to make our existence as simple reproducers, for which divine Providence solely intended us, less monotonous and less hard.” – Guy de Maupassant, “Useless Beauty” (trans. McMaster, et al.)

“I say that Nature is our enemy, that we must always fight against Nature, for she is continually bringing us back to an animal state. You may be sure that God has not put anything on this earth that is clean, pretty, elegant or accessory to our ideal; the human brain has done it. It is man who has introduced a little grace, beauty, unknown charm and mystery into creation by singing about it, interpreting it, by admiring it as a poet, idealizing it as an artist and by explaining it through science, doubtless making mistakes, but finding ingenious reasons, hidden grace and beauty, unknown charm and mystery in the various phenomena of Nature. God created only coarse beings, full of the germs of disease, who, after a few years of bestial enjoyment, grow old and infirm, with all the ugliness and all the want of power of human decrepitude. He seems to have made them only in order that they may reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and then die like ephemeral insects. I said reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and I adhere to that expression. What is there as a matter of fact more ignoble and more repugnant than that act of reproduction of living beings, against which all delicate minds always have revolted and always will revolt? Since all the organs which have been invented by this economical and malicious Creator serve two purposes, why did He not choose another method of performing that sacred mission, which is the noblest and the most exalted of all human functions? The mouth, which nourishes the body by means of material food, also diffuses abroad speech and thought. Our flesh renews itself of its own accord, while we are thinking about it. The olfactory organs, through which the vital air reaches the lungs, communicate all the perfumes of the world to the brain: the smell of flowers, of woods, of trees, of the sea. The ear, which enables us to communicate with our fellow men, has also allowed us to invent music, to create dreams, happiness, infinite and even physical pleasure by means of sound! But one might say that the cynical and cunning Creator wished to prohibit man from ever ennobling and idealizing his intercourse with women. Nevertheless man has found love, which is not a bad reply to that sly Deity, and he has adorned it with so much poetry that woman often forgets the sensual part of it. Those among us who are unable to deceive themselves have invented vice and refined debauchery, which is another way of laughing at God and paying homage, immodest homage, to beauty. But the normal man begets children just like an animal coupled with another by law.” – Guy de Maupassant, “Useless Beauty” (trans. McMaster, et al.)

“Why would I want to tell people made-up stories? I can’t stand made-up stories. It makes me sick to hear a made-up story. Look, if your story is a made-up story, then do me a favor and keep it to yourself. Me, I would never tell a made-up story about anything, let alone about myself. I respect myself much too much for me ever to stoop to just making something up about myself. I don’t get it why anybody would want to tell a made-up story about himself. But the even bigger mystery to me is why, when you tell them the truth, people go ahead and look at you and say, ‘Oh, come on, quit it—nooooooooooooo.’ “ – Gordon Lish, “Wouldn’t a Title Just Make it Worse?”

“People are just sickening. Plain and simple, people are really just plain sickening. Where is the rhyme or reason to it? There is no rhyme or reason to it. You know what? Let me tell you what. I pity you if you think the day will ever come when you can count on people. You cannot count on people. You cannot expect anything from people. You know what you can expect from people? You want for me to explain to you what you can expect from people? Because the answer is nothing. That’s it, that’s right—nothing. Go ahead and expect nothing from people. All you have in this world is your own, but you cannot expect anything from them, either. Your own are the only ones you have a right to expect anything from, but do not waste your breath expecting anything from them either. Who isn’t scum? They are all scum. The whole gang of them, forget it, they’re scum. I would not give you two cents for the best of them—whoever they are.” – Gordon Lish, Zimzum

“Neighborhood adultery is no laughing matter; it’s a horror show, because everyone knows it happens and everyone has something to lose if it gets out. Most people like living in some form of authoritarian tribal containment, observing tradition and taboo. Mediocrities don’t like freedom; they like containment with a little hypocrisy on the side.” – Ethan Mordden, Medium Cool

“All art is manipulative; all art is self-indulgent. Any organization of narrative, every choice in characterization, is a manipulation. Novelists, composers, poets, painters, and other creators indulge themselves, liberate their fantasies in everything they create. Der Ring des Nibelungen is manipulative. War and Peace is self-indulgent.” – Ethan Mordden, Medium Cool

“There can be no safe place, because the world does not consist of the good, the wise, and the generous taking on the wicked, the unreasonable, and the selfish. The world consists of dense psychologies of desire, fear, and resentment in a state of constant explosion. The world is not safe, because people are dangerous. Not only crooks and loonies but all people. A mother can be dangerous.” – Ethan Mordden, Medium Cool

“Actions and consciously expressed opinions are as a rule enough for practical purposes in judging men’s characters. Actions deserve to be considered first and foremost; for many impulses which force their way through to consciousness are even then brought to nothing by the real forces of mental life before they can mature into deeds. In fact such impulses often meet with no psychical obstacles to their progress, for the very reason that the unconscious is certain that they will be stopped at some other stage. It is in any case instructive to get to know the much trampled soil from which our virtues proudly spring. Very rarely does the complexity of a human character, driven hither and thither by dynamic forces, submit to a choice between simple alternatives, as our antiquated morality would have us believe.” – Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (trans. James Strachey)

“It is only with the greatest difficulty that the beginner in the business of interpreting dreams can be persuaded that his task is not at an end when he has a complete interpretation in his hands—an interpretation which makes sense, is coherent and throws light upon every element of the dream’s content. For the same dream may perhaps have another interpretation as well, an ‘over-interpretation’, which has escaped him. It is, indeed, not easy to form any conception of the abundance of the unconscious trains of thought, all striving to find expression, which are active in our minds.” – Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (trans. James Strachey)