Sloths and dogs, hummingbirds and guppies, mayflies and mites

“I usually compare the novel to a mammal, be it wild as a tiger or tame as a cow; the short story to a bird or a fish; the micro story to an insect (iridescent in the best cases).” – Luisa Valenzuela (as quoted in Robet Shapard’s “The Remarkable Reinvention of Very Short Fiction”)

Deflation of the demos

“It would seem that in an egalitarian society social etiquette would vanish, not, as is generally supposed, from want of breeding, but because on the one side would disappear the deference due to a prestige which must be imaginary to be effective, and on the other, more completely still, the affability that is gracefully and generously dispensed when it is felt to be of infinite price to the recipient, a price which, in a world based on equality, would at once fall to nothing like everything which has only a fiduciary value.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

The long way around

“An artist has no need to express his thought directly in his work for the latter to reflect its quality; it has even been said that the highest praise of God consists in the denial of him by the atheist who finds creation so perfect that it can dispense with a creator.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

No fun at parties

“Character starts with the alphabet. Letters: words: sentences. Any individual human is immensely complex and contradictory and it would be sheer tedium to encounter this complexity, fully and accurately recorded on the page. ‘Fleshed out,’ I believe the term is.”  – Noy Holland (in Hilary Plum’s “Stop Up Your Ears and Secede”)

The ghosts that haunt us

“‘Do you hear voices?’ asks the doctor. I say yes. What I hear is the muttering phantom, the mouse gnawing at the door. The wind in the mind of the trees. Nothing mindful or coherent. From the muttering, I try to make coherence: people call this voice, but why not call it character? If character is a locus which allows one to speak… ‘certain sorts of sentences?’ Suppose I observe or remember in a person a quirk, a gift, a flaw. An exemplary tic. How does that tic or quirk or flaw influence how a person perceives and therefore words experience? The worded experience, the linguistic field, is character and voice at once, a record of perception. So, yes: I go word by word by ear for as long as I can, according to my awareness of what I’ve said and did not mean to say. And yes: this is messy and inefficient and—worst—insufficient, particularly in longer fictions. Insufficient because you don’t get structure by keeping your ear to the ground. You have to stand up, and I never want to do so too soon, never want to see too far or control too much, which for me feels deadly. The ordering impulse is crucial but I don’t want it to be dominant or inhibiting. When it’s dominant the terms we commonly use—character, voice, plot, setting—begin to make sense; the story bleeds out; it’s anybody’s. More chatter in a chattering world.” – Noy Holland (in Hilary Plum’s “Stop Up Your Ears and Secede”; emphases and ellipsis in original)

It’s right in front of you and you’re headed straight for it

“We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in a vague and remote expanse of time; it does not occur to us that it can have any connexion with the day that has already dawned and can mean that death—or its first assault and partial possession of us, after which it will never leave hold of us again—may occur this very afternoon, so far from uncertain, this afternoon whose timetable, hour by hour, has been settled in advance. One insists on one’s daily outing so that in a month’s time one will have had the necessary ration of fresh air, one has hesitated over which coat to take, which cabman to call; one is in the cab, the whole day lies before one, short because one must be back home early, as a friend is coming to see one; one hopes that it will be as fine again tomorrow; and one has no suspicion that death, which has been advancing within one on another plane, has chosen precisely this particular day to make its appearance, in a few minutes’ time.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Where would we be without us?

“Submit to being called a neurotic. You belong to that splendid and pitiable family which is the salt of the earth. Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art. The world will never realise how much it owes to them, and what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it. We enjoy fine music, beautiful pictures, a thousand exquisite things, but we do not know what they cost those who wrought them in insomnia, tears, spasmodic laughter, urticaria, asthma, epilepsy, a terror of death which is worse than any of these, and which you perhaps have experienced.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

We’ve got a pill for that

“Medicine being a compendium of the successive and contradictory mistakes of medical practitioners, when we summon the wisdom of them to our aid the chances are that we may be relying on a scientific truth the error of which will be recognised in a few years’ time. So that to believe in medicine would be the height of folly, if not to believe in it were a greater folly still, for from this mass of errors a few truths have in the long run emerged.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Ghosts trapped in a crumbling prison

“It is in sickness that we are compelled to recognise that we do not live alone but are chained to a being from a different realm, from whom we are worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. Were we to meet a brigand on the road, we might perhaps succeed in making him sensible of his own personal interest if not of our plight. But to ask pity of our body is like discoursing in front of an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides, and with which we should be appalled to find ourselves condemned to live.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

The price of everything

“(a) We live in a society of commodities—that is, a society in which production of goods is taking place, not primarily to satisfy human wants and needs, but for profit. Human needs are satisfied only incidentally, as it were. This basic condition of production affects the form of the product as well as the human interrelationships. (b) In our commodity society there exists a general trend toward a heavy concentration of capital which makes for a shrinking of the free market in favor of monopolized mass production of standardized goods; this holds true particularly of the communications industry. (c) The more the difficulties of contemporary society increase as it seeks its own continuance, the stronger becomes the general tendency to maintain, by all means available, the existing conditions of power and property relations against the threats which they themselves breed. Whereas on the one hand standardization necessarily follows from the conditions of contemporary economy, it becomes, on the other hand, one of the means of preserving a commodity society at a stage in which, according to the level of the productive forces, it has already lost its justification. (d) Since in our society the forces of production are highly developed, and, at the same time, the relations of production fetter those productive forces, it is full of antagonisms. These antagonisms are not limited to the economic sphere where they are universally recognized, but dominate also the cultural sphere where they are less easily recognized.” –  Theodor W. Adorno, “A Social Critique of Radio Music”

That’s why bullets are made out of lead

“Diplomats know that, in the scales which ensure that balance of power, European or otherwise, which we call peace, good feeling, fine speeches, earnest entreaties weigh very little; and that the heavy weight, the true determinant consists in something else, in the possibility which the adversary enjoys, if he is strong enough, or does not enjoy, of satisfying a desire in exchange for something in return.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

A place upon which, later, many flowers will grow

“A battlefield has never been, and never will be throughout the centuries, simply the ground upon which a single battle has been fought. If it has been a battlefield, that was because it combined certain conditions of geographical position, of geological formation, even of certain defects calculated to hinder the enemy (a river, for instance, cutting it in two), which made it a good battlefield. And so what it has been it will continue to be. You don’t make an artist’s studio out of any old room; so you don’t make a battlefield out of any old piece of ground.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Nested

“Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years.” – Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Meet the old boss

“You look at life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and brutishness of the weak, incredible poverty all about us, overcrowding, degeneration, drunkenness, hypocrisy, lying. . . . Yet all is calm and stillness in the houses and in the streets; of the fifty thousand living in a town, there is not one who would cry out, who would give vent to his indignation aloud. We see the people going to market for provisions, eating by day, sleeping by night, talking their silly nonsense, getting married, growing old, serenely escorting their dead to the cemetery; but we do not see and we do not hear those who suffer, and what is terrible in life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. . . . Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition. . . . And this order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible. It’s a case of general hypnotism. There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him — disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree — and all goes well.” – Anton Chekhov, “The Gooseberries” (trans. Garnett; ellipses in original)

A long march

“We may talk for a lifetime without doing more than indefinitely repeat the vacuity of a minute, whereas the march of thought in the solitary work of artistic creation proceeds in depth, in the only direction that is not closed to us, along which we are free to advance—though with more effort, it is true—towards a goal of truth.” – Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

No one is born with a gold star

“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. The lives that you admire, the attitudes that seem noble to you, have not been shaped by a paterfamilias or a schoolmaster, they have sprung from very different beginnings, having been influenced by everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them. They represent a struggle and a victory.” – Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Who shall I be today?

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

It’s all you need

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

Dreaming with my eyes wide open

“When a mind has a tendency towards day-dreams, it’s a mistake to shield it from them, to ration them. So long as you divert your mind from its day-dreams, it will not know them for what they are; you will be the victim of all sorts of appearances because you will not have grasped their true nature. If a little day-dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time. One must have a thorough understanding of one’s day-dreams if one is not to be troubled by them.” – Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Signs that block the way

“The names which designate things correspond invariably to an intellectual notion, alien to our true impressions, and compelling us to eliminate from them everything that is not in keeping with that notion.” – Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)