“The past is never simply what it is. Subjects have the capacity to create a different past by changing the present. . . . When we change what counts as valuable in the past, we engage in a retroactive causality that moves in the opposite direction of traditional causality. We retroactively transform the significance of what’s already happened and thereby effectively change what has happened. The subject is capable of a constant revision of the past. Retroactive causality has its basis in the insubstantiality of the past, but it doesn’t license the subject to change the past in an arbitrary fashion. Instead, the subject must come to see itself as a break in the continuum of history, an interruption capable of acting in a way that has no license from the past, and then it must act. The subject’s free act is what institutes the retroactive change in the past” – Todd McGowan, “We Are the Change that We Seek”

“Without absolute knowing, subjects are unable to act freely because they posit an authoritative substance that ultimately functions as a barrier to the act. The belief in substance limits what one conceives of as possible. For instance, the subject that believes in the substantiality of God can’t act in a way free of God or the subject that believes in the substantiality of the atom can’t act in a way that would challenge the existence of atoms. Whatever entity has the status of ‘substance’ for the subject impedes the subject’s ability to act freely.” – Todd McGowan, “We Are the Change that We Seek”

“The act of teaching the young so that they can carry our humanity, what we’ve made of ourselves, into future worlds is an act that in a sense defies the forward march of time and the relentless annihilation and oblivion of death. Even as a father’s material being abandons his children, he leaves something of himself behind, often lessons that are unpacked only as his children’s own lives unfold.” – Peter S, Fosl, “You Don’t Know Who You Are”

“We have been so turned around by our society that we no longer feel the stars turn. We have become so used to feeling religious only when we are uncomfortable and full of pride for having bothered to go to church at all that we no longer remember that religion was once a force that created civilization out of barbarism and inspired almost all the great works of art in history.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“You can imagine that if our civilization were to be wiped out, no scholar a thousand years from now would be willing to accept the fact that pieces of things as different as Volkwagens, Cadillacs, and buses all represented, not isolated cultures, but parts of one industrial civilization that covered the face of the earth. They would split it all up in tiny pieces and talk about how the Volkswagen I people conquered the Ford II people until both were replaced by an empire which moved people in large vehicles. Other scholars would argue that no one could possibly have crossed the great ocean, and that the Ford and Volkswagen cultures had nothing to do with one another but were separate and independent inventions.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Imagine a vehicle as large as a planet that began a voyage an aeon ago. After generations of voyaging, the mechanics lose all sense of who they are and where they are going. They begin to grow unhappy with their condition and say that the notion that they are on a journey in an enormous vehicle is a myth put forth by the ruling class to disguise its oppression of the mechanical class. There is a revolution and the captain is killed. Elated by their triumph, the mechanics proclaim the dictatorship of the proletariat and destroy the captain’s log, which contains, they claim, nothing but the lies of the old ruling class.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Imagine insects with a life span of two weeks, and then imagine further that they are trying to build up a science about the nature of time and history. Clearly, they cannot build a model on the basis of a few days in summer. So let us endow them with a language and a culture through which they can pass on their knowledge to future generations. Summer passes, then autumn; finally it is winter. The winter insects are a whole new breed, and they perfect a new and revolutionary science on the basis of the ‘hard facts’ of their perceptions of snow. As for the myths and legends of summer: certainly the intelligent insects are not going to believe the superstitions of their primitive ancestors.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Scientists now work as stonemasons did once on cathedrals. They put the stones next to one another with great attention to detail and the work of the fellow next to them, but they have no sense of the architectonics of the whole. And sometimes they do not even have a sense of the purpose of a cathedral.” – Werner Heisenberg (interviewed by William Irwin Thompson in Passages About Earth)

“The separation of authority from power is not easily understood in terms of American culture. We based a whole revolution on rejecting European authority and power and lumped geniuses, lords, and cardinals all together into one untrustworthy group. It is, therefore, an historical irony that the country that rejected kings and crowns ended up by idolizing the Presidency and allowed the holder of the office to become more powerful than any Caesar.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“One of the primary rules of language is that there must be a good reason for the listener to attend to a second sentence after the first one; to supply a good reason is called ‘being interesting.’ Not to attend to the second sentence is called ‘not listening.’ The reasons to listen are always selfish, but that does not mean they are only selfish. It is hard to listen. It is also hard to write well and to think. These ought not to be unfamiliar statements. This ought not to be news. See you in the bookstores soon.” – Harold Brodkey, “Reading, the Most Dangerous Game”

“If the reader is not at risk, he is not reading. And if the writer is not at risk, he is not writing. As a rule, a writer and a book or a poem are no good if the writer is essentially unchanged morally after having written it. If the work is really a holding operation, this will show in a closed or flat quality in the prose and in the scheme of the thing, a logiclessness, if you will pardon the neologism, in the writing. Writing always tends toward a kind of moral stance—this is because of the weight of logic and of truth in it—but judging the ways in which it is moral is hard for people who are not cultivated. Profoundly educated persons make the best judges. The general risk in being a man or woman of cultivation is then very high, and this is so in any culture, and perhaps requires too much strength for even a small group to practice in ours. But should such a guerrilla group arise, it will have to say that cultivation and judgment issue from the mouths of books and can come from no other source. Over a period of centuries, ignorance has come, justifiably, to mean a state of booklessness. Movie-educated people are strained; they are decontextualized; they are cultivated in a lesser way. Television and contemporary music are haunted by the search for messiahs; the usual sign of mass inauthenticity is a false prophet (which usually means a war will shortly break out and be lost). The absence of good sense signals the decline of a people and of a civilization. Shrewdness without good sense is hell unleashed.” – Harold Brodkey, “Reading, the Most Dangerous Game”

“In Europe, reading is known to be dangerous. Reading always leads to personal metamorphosis, sometimes irreversible, sometimes temporary, sometimes large-scale, sometimes less than that. A good book leads to alterations in one’s sensibility and often becomes a premise in one’s beliefs. One associates truth with texts, with impressive texts anyway; and when trashy books vanish from sight, it is because they lie too much and too badly and are not worth one’s intimacy with them. Print has so much authority, however, that sometimes it is only at the beginning of an attempt at a second reading or at the end of it, and only then, if one is self-assured, that one can see whether a book was not really worth reading the first time; one tells by how alterable the truth in it seems in this more familiar light and how effective the book remains or, contrarily, how amazingly empty of meaning it now shows itself to be. It is a strange feeling to be a practiced enough reader and writer to see in some books that there is nothing there. It is eerie: why did the writer bother? What reward is there in being a fraud in one’s language and in one’s ideas? To believe they just didn’t know is more unsettling than to doubt oneself or to claim to be superficial or prejudiced or to give up reading entirely, at least for a while. Or, in our country, we deny what we see of this and even reverse it: fraud is presented as happiness; an empty book is said to be well constructed; a foolish argument is called innovative. This is a kind of bliss; but lying of that sort, when it is nearly universal, wrecks the possibility of our having a literary culture or even of our talking about books with each other with any real pleasure. It is like being phony yachtsmen who only know smooth water and who use their motors whenever they can. This guarantees an immense personal wretchedness, actually.” – Harold Brodkey, “Reading, the Most Dangerous Game”

“When the factories began to replace cottage industries, the parents became collectivized in the new institution, and so it was thought only natural that the children should be too. But the younger members of the human species did not take to industrialization so readily; the factory literally became a Procrustean bed, and as the children began to lose eye and limb from their encounter with the machines, it became obvious that they did not fit in the new institution of the factory. And so a new institution was created, the public school, and the collectivization of the parents was matched in the collectivization of the children.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“The role of an educational bureaucracy is to educate people to bureaucracy, and this can be done as well in a course in humanities as in one in business administration. If one controls the structure, one can afford to allow a liberal amount of play in the content.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Myth is not an early level of human development, but an imaginative description of reality in which the known is related to the unknown through a system of correspondences in which mind and matter, self, society, and cosmos are integrally expressed in an esoteric language of poetry and number which is itself a performance of the reality it seeks to describe. Myth expresses the deep correspondence between ‘the universal grammar’ of the mind and the universal grammar of events in spacetime. A hunk of words does not create a language, and a hunk of matter does not create a cosmos. The structures by which and through which man realizes the intellectual between himself and the universe of which he is a part are his mathematical, musical, and verbal creations. Mediating between Nous and Cosmos is the Logos.” – William Irwin Thompson, At the Edge of History

“Rationality was possible in Greek, Roman, and European civilizations because there were only a few hundred books one needed to know. We have now reached the point where even an academic who devotes his whole life to reading cannot possibly keep up, even with his own limited field.” – William Irwin Thompson, At the Edge of History

“At the moments when we are at a turning point, we are permitted to look out across all the curves of the road to see the end hanging down almost within our grasp; but when we come to the top of the first incline, we find that the road cuts back and we can only see what is straight in front of us, and that doesn’t even seem to be going in the right direction.” – William Irwin Thompson, At the Edge of History