Month: August 2019

“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

“The difficulty with the liberal imagination is that it is so owned by the myth of progress that it cannot think of the future in any other terms except more of the same.” – 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

“There are only two choices open to those who have discovered that society is a madhouse. In the tradition of Plato’s cave, they can withdraw and seek light elsewhere to discover the larger landscape in which the madhouse is located. Or, if that Platonic tradition of the Good seems merely an infantile fantasy, they can deny self-determination to the insane majority and burn the madhouse to the ground to force people out into the open.” – William Irwin Thompson, At the Edge of History

“In the literary sphere we grapple with one mind at a time; in the digital sphere there is always a mass of other minds. If all forms of reading might be imagined as variations on the simple act of driving down a road, then reading a novel might be like driving down a lonely, very long, very straight one-lane desert road in the isolation of a perfectly soundless night, whereas reading online is like being on an eight-lane, twisting superhighway full of bumper-to-bumper traffic consisting of drivers all honking uproariously at you while in your car shriek innumerable cell phones all calling for you and four unruly passengers scream at your face.” – Veronica Scott Esposito, “Attention & the Future of Narrative”

“Ask yourself sincerely at odd moments, ‘Am I prone to deep feeling?’ for it is less than necessary—that very small, bright, enlarging thing. The passions do not knock one out, but they may permit you to have carnal complaints before proceeding further.” – Diane Williams, “Woman in Rose Dress”

“The customer entered his home, approached his wife, and considered his chances. Hadn’t his wife been daily smacked across the mouth with lipstick and cut above the eyes with mascara?” – Diane Williams, “On the Job”

“Do you know how the animals got their tails? How the lesser gods came into the world? The longer this goddess lives, the more she shakes her tail—or pulls on it with all her strength.” – Diane Williams, “How Blown Up”

Playing with matchesPlaying with matches

“Memory is an arsonist, setting fires cell-deep at ungovernable intervals of time and space. Lights go on, searching out pain. The hands of another. The mother voice, singing to block out the noise. Titanic laughter and with it confusion. Clouds, white, grey striations, disposed across the eye. The folded heron in the reed bed, the river drifting deeply, its world mirroring still.” – David Hayden, “Wonder Meadow”

Snapped in two like a pencilSnapped in two like a pencil

“All the hours, all the days, the months in figurative seclusion, all the sentences written that’ll never be read, and all the books published that’ll never reach any more than a handful. And yet it’s still in the act of solitude that I look to make a connection, to be something other than alone. There’s something so broken about it, but look, I’m still here. I’m writing in the darkness of a room, shortly after dusk.” – Michael J. Seidlinger, “Every Time You’re Alone: An Incomplete List”

And that’s why we do itAnd that’s why we do it

“Philosophy in the end is an intellectual game. At limits unattainable by mathematics and the empirical sciences, it constructs all sorts of intricate structures. And as a structure is completed, the game ends. Fiction is different from philosophy because it is the product of sensory perceptions. If a futile self-made signifier is saturated in a solution of lust and at a particular time transforms into a living cell capable of multiplying and growing, it is much more interesting than games of the intellect.” – Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain (trans. Mabel Lee)