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Month: December 2011

A plague upon the nation

“Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of a mass epidemic whenever a society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions: 1. a high enough degree of general well-being to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities; 2. an advanced state of social atomization and the resultant general feeling of the isolation of the individual; 3. a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation.” — Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (trans. Heim)

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You can get a grant for that

“People are always shouting they want to create a better future.  It’s not true.  The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone.  The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it.  The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.” — Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (trans. Heim)


Point zero-zero

“Each person must, on some level, take himself as the calibration point for normalcy, must assume that the room of his own mind is not, cannot be, entirely opaque to him.  Perhaps this is what we mean by sanity: that, whatever our self-admitted eccentricities might be, we are not the villains of our own stories.” — Teju Cole, Open City

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Waterboarding, for instance

“Different people want different things in this world, and you have to be careful about taking risks.  Hungry people have the cunning of wild beasts.  A thing that seemed strange and wrong yesterday can seem perfectly reasonable tomorrow, or vice versa.” — Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear

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This will not make you feel safe

“Everybody you see these days might have the power to get you locked up….  Who knows why?  They will have reasons straight out of some horrible Kafka story, but in the end it won’t matter any more than a full moon behind clouds.” — Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear (ellipsis in original)


Distant haze over the credibility gap

“Never believe the first thing an FBI agent tells you about anything–especially not if he seems to believe you are guilty of a crime.  Maybe he has no evidence.  Maybe he’s bluffing.  Maybe you are innocent.  Maybe.  The Law can be hazy on these things.” — Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear

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Sorta makes it all worth it

“Every once in a while, but not often, you can sit down and write a thing that you know is going to stand people’s hair on end for the rest of their lives—a perfect memory of some kind, like a vision, and you can see the words rolling out of your fingers and bouncing around for a while like wild little jewels before they finally roll into place & line up just exactly like you wanted them to….  Wow!  Look at that shit!  Who wrote that stuff?  What?  Me?  Hot damn!” — Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear


Stating what should be the obvious

“Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen.  In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously.  Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher.  For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.” — Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear


Stuff it full of catnip

“If we cannot accept the importance of the world, which considers itself important, if in the midst of that world our laughter finds no echo, we have but one choice: to take the world as a whole and make it into the object of our game; to turn it into a toy.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

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The unmoved episode

“If our lives were endless, like the lives of the gods of antiquity, the concept of episode would lose its meaning, for in infinity every event, no matter how trivial, would meet up with its consequence and unfold into a story.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

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Watch your step

“No episode is a priori condemned to remain an episode forever, for every event, no matter how trivial, conceals within itself the possibility of sooner or later becoming the cause of other events and thus changing into a story or an adventure.  Episodes are like land mines.  The majority of them never explode, but the most unremarkable of them may someday turn into a story that will prove fateful to you.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

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Sleeping on the slats

“Life is as stuffed with episodes as a mattress is with horsehair, but a poet (according to Aristotle) is not an upholsterer and must remove all stuffing from his story, even though real life consists of nothing but precisely such stuffing.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)


In our next episode, Biff boffs Bambi

“In Aristotle’s Poetics, the episode is an important concept.  Aristotle did not like episodes.  According to him, an episode, from the point of view of poetry, is the worst possible type of event.  It is neither an unavoidable consequence of preceding action nor the cause of what is to follow: it is outside the causal chain of events that is the story.  It is merely a sterile accident that can be left out without making the story lose its intelligible continuity and is incapable of making a permanent mark upon the life of the characters.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

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The answer could be yes

“Isn’t the cause of most bad paintings and bad novels simply the fact that artists consider their passion for art something holy, some sort of mission if not duty (duty to oneself, even to mankind)?” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)


Taking the slow low road

“Road: a strip of ground over which one walks.  A highway differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point to another.  A highway has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects.  A road is a tribute to space.  Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop.  A highway is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time.  Before roads and paths disappeared from the landscape, they had disappeared from the human soul: man stopped wanting to walk, to walk on his own feet and to enjoy it.  What’s more, he no longer saw his own life as a road, but as a highway: a line that led from one point to another, from the rank of captain to the rank of general, from the role of wife to the role of widow.  Time became a mere obstacle to life, an obstacle that had to be overcome by ever greater speed.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

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Never getting it right

“To be mortal is the most basic human experience, and yet man has never been able to accept it, grasp it, and behave accordingly.  Man doesn’t know how to be mortal.  And when he dies, he doesn’t even know how to be dead.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

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