“To be a writer, one has to tell the truth, and one has to tell the hardest truth that is available to one. One has to tell one’s own truth. One has to risk everything to capture that truth; one has to reach down inside of oneself to the zone of most crucial danger, to the zone where, in fact, one may even be unsettling one’s notion of oneself and therefore destabilizing one’s personality. Through means of acoustic pressure, through means of thematic pressure, one must extrude that acuity and get it onto the page so that it can be seen. I think that this task is accomplished chiefly as a function of courage, of the will, and then of an absolutely unrelenting industry.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there were two brothers. One was big and strong and highly respected as a great warrior; the other was looked upon with scorn, for he was soft, gentle, and effeminately given to lying among the flowers to play his flute as he gazed into the sky. A time came when the town of the brothers set about the work of constructing a great temple to honor their gods. Since the oldest brother was the largest and strongest man in the community, the elders asked him to move the huge stones needed to make a truly holy temple, after the fashion of the ancients. The older brother responded with muscle, but he could not move even the smallest of the large rocks the priests wanted. So then in good warrior fashion, he set about organizing the conquered slaves in work gangs; but no matter how hard he beat them with the whip, the slaves could not budge the stones. While the slaves and the oldest brother were struggling with great effort, the younger brother came strolling in from his morning with the flowers and the sky. He looked at the people and the stones, and then he looked into the stones and recognized them, for he could see their names. With a smile he took out his flute and began to play. The older brother shouted that this was no time to play, that there was real work for real men to do, but his shouts were stopped by an exclamation from the slaves, for the great stones were beginning to sway back and forth in rhythm with the music of the younger brother’s flute. Stopping for a moment, the younger brother told the priests that they should speak to the stones and tell them that they were being moved to make a great temple to honor the gods. And when the priests had done this, the younger brother told the slaves to take the stones gently in hand, for they were very, very old, and lead them along the path to the site of the temple. And then he began to play his flute again. The stones began to sway back and forth; and as they did, the slaves gently guided them and the great stones danced themselves down the road and into the place the priests had chosen for them.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light (emphasis in original)

“Writing is considered a profession, and I don’t think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy.” – Georges Simenon (interviewed by Carvel Collins in The Paris Review)

“We need narrative not because it is a valid epistemological description of the world but because of its cognitive role. It’s how we make sense of things. An inability to render life experiences into a coherent narrative is characteristic of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Text that fails to deliver narrative coherence, for example in terms of relating cause to effect and honouring the expectations of readers, is harder to understand. So identifying narratives in abstract activities such as music and sport seems inevitable: if they lacked the properties that make this possible, they wouldn’t catch on, because they would seem pointless and unintelligible. Looked at this way, we might wonder if the ultimate intelligibility of the universe will be determined not so much by the capacity of our minds to formulate the appropriate concepts and equations, but by whether we can find a meaningful story to tell about it.” – Philip Ball, “The Story Trap”

“There is reason for the taboo in primitive life, but not in our life, not in civilized communities. The taboo then is dangerous and unhealthy. You see, civilized peoples don’t live according to moral codes or principles of any kind. We speak about them, we pay lip service to them, but nobody believes in them. Nobody practices these rules, they have no place in our lives. Taboos after all are only hangovers, the product of diseased minds, you might say, of fearsome people who hadn’t the courage to live and who under the guise of morality and religion have imposed these things upon us. I see the world, the civilized world, as largely irreligious. The religion in force among civilized people is always false and hypocritical, the very opposite of what the initiators of any religion really meant.” – Henry Miller (interviewed by George Wickes in The Paris Review)

“The idealists in politics lack a sense of reality. And a politician must be a realist above all. These people with ideals and principles, they’re all at sea, in my opinion. One has to be a lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one.” – Henry Miller (interviewed by George Wickes in The Paris Review)

“Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, ‘I will compose poetry.’ The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the color of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”

“We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems of thought is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes. There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, what is wiser and better than what men now practise and endure. But we let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat in the adage. We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry” (emphases in original)

“All high poetry is infinite; it is as the first acorn, which contained all oaks potentially. Veil after veil may be undrawn, and the inmost naked beauty of the meaning never exposed. A great poem is a fountain forever overflowing with the waters of wisdom and delight; and after one person and one age has exhausted all its divine effluence which their peculiar relations enable them to share, another and yet another succeeds, and new relations are ever developed, the source of an unforeseen and an unconceived delight.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”

“Implacable hate, patient cunning, and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremist anguish on an enemy, these things are evil; and, although venial in a slave, are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed by much that ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that dishonors his conquest in the victor.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”

“The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”

“History, by definition, is a civilized, literate record of events; it is a conscious self-image of a society projected by an elite. In a sense, history is the self-image of a culture, the ego of a culture. History is controlled through education and tradition, and is monitored, if not manipulated, by elitist institutions, whether these are temples, academies, or universities. History is the story told by the elite in power and is a way of articulating human time so that it reinforces the institutional power of the elite.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

“I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up; that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the best and purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.” – Ursula Le Guin, “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?”

“Trees die, and from their wood human beings build homes and furniture, statues and Stradivariuses. If humans died in a healthy culture, they would not lock out the earth in metal coffins and carve their names on stone monuments, but would instead place the naked body in the earth and plant a tree above the silent heart.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

“I write because it sustains me in a way that nothing else can. I write because it’s integral to my being present and conscientious in this life. I write because I have something to say and the written word is the medium with which I best express myself. I write because I love it. I write because I’d be a grouchy, depressed wreck of a person if I didn’t. “ – Michelle Ross, Fiction Editor, Atticus Review

“Bad stories often are raw biography. Literary art consists in transforming one kind of reality, that of physical experience, into another kind of reality, that of literary experience. Imagining, the process of transforming, is illuminated dimly, if at all, only by the magic of criticism. Writers are often complex people and fascinating subjects for psychological analysis, but a writer is a person to whom writing happens.” – Karl Kroeber, “Sisters and Science Fiction”

“The culture of fossil fuels literally feeds off the past, of the world of the dinosaurs, but the culture of solar energy feeds off light, and so the shift from the subterranean world of coal mine and oil well to the open horizons of wind and sun is really a shift in archetypes which will have profound repercussions in the collective unconscious.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

“A deep and affirming consciousness of death indicates a deep and affirming consciousness of life. In the shift from community to consumption, we became what we owned, and so alone with all our purchases, we became frightened and death became a hysterical obsession. Disconnected from nature and the human community, the isolated ego became terrified of its aloneness and sought a denial of death in massive collectivization in monstrous institutions. In gigantic and impersonal hospitals, the isolated ego looked to technology to deliver it from pain and death; and in the usual twist of opposites in life, the ego’s very fear of pain and death put it in the hands of techniques of impersonal medical engineering, for which it paid dearly.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

“Within these days past, I have marched by 18 or 20 Negroes that lay dead by the way-side, putrifying with the small pox. How such a thing came about, appears to be thus: The Negroes here being much disaffected (arising from their harsh treatment), flock’d in great numbers to [British General Lord] Cornwallis, as soon as he came into these parts. The artful general takes a number of them (several hundreds), innoculates them, & just as they all are growing sick, he sends them out into the country where our troops had to pass & repass. These poor creatures, having no care taken of them, many crawl’d into the bushes about & died, where they lay infecting the air around with intolerable stench & great danger. This is a piece of Cornwallisean cruelty. He is not backward to own that he has inoculated 4 or 500 in order to spread smallpox thro’ the country, & sent them out for that purpose.” – Josiah Atkins, “Diary, June 24th, 1781,” (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel; emphases in original)

“Some men in these parts, they tell me, own 30,000 acres of land for their patrimony, & many have two or 300 Negroes to work on it as slaves. Alas! That persons who pretend to stand for the rights of mankind for the liberties of society, can delight in oppression, & that even of the worst kind! These poor creatures are enslav’d: not only so, but likewise deprived of that which nature affords even to the beasts. Many are almost without provision, having very little for support of nature; & many are as naked as they came into the world. What pray is this but the strikingly inconsistent character pointed out by the apostle, While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption!” – Josiah Atkins, “Diary, June 6th, 1781,” (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel; emphases in original)