Month: March 2020

“We have been conscious for centuries, and look, we have not come through. The quality of our consciousness is wrong, to begin with. We need the consciousness of appreciation, not the consciousness of possession; the open hand, not the grip of claw.” – Denis Donoghue, The Ordinary Universe

“None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realise it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self for ever.” – Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night

“To reconcile the demands of the imagination with the impositions of the world is a delicate exercise; especially if the natural idiom of the imagination is a language of freedom, mobility, and range, and the idiom of the world is, for the most part, deception and abuse.” – Denis Donoghue, The Ordinary Universe

“Reverence for life involves saying ‘yes’ to the human situation, limited and finite as it is; it disposes us to respect persons, to value them, to find the human predicament full of hazard and therefore full of significance; to find that moral choice is important and that life is possibility if not promise.” – Denis Donoghue, The Ordinary Universe

“That which checks all the police forces of avoidance is, if I can put it thus, avoidance itself. There are, for example, what are called ‘publications’: one can fail to know them, this is always possible in a given context; but one can arrange things, in a certain milieu, in order to avoid knowing that they exist; one can also, knowing of their existence, avoid reading them; one can read while avoiding ‘understanding’; one can, understanding, avoid being affected by them or using them; one can also, using them, avoid referring to them; but one can further, referring to them, enclose them, contain them, exclude them, and therefore avoid them better than ever, etc. But what is to be thought of the fact that one cannot avoid avoiding, of inevitable avoidance in all its forms—rejection, foreclusion, denegation, incorporation, and even introjective and idealizing assimilation of the other at the limit of incorporation—?” – Jacques Derrida, The Post Card (trans. Alan Bass)

“Nor in Æschylus nor Dante, those stern masters of tenderness, in Shakespeare, the most purely human of all the great artists, in the whole of Celtic myth and legend, where the loveliness of the world is shown through a mist of tears, and the life of a man is no more than the life of a flower, is there anything that, for sheer simplicity of pathos wedded and made one with sublimity of tragic effect, can be said to equal or even approach the last act of Christ’s passion. The little supper with his companions, one of whom has already sold him for a price; the anguish in the quiet moon-lit garden; the false friend coming close to him so as to betray him with a kiss; the friend who still believed in him, and on whom as on a rock he had hoped to build a house of refuge for Man, denying him as the bird cried to the dawn; his own utter loneliness, his submission, his acceptance of everything; and along with it all such scenes as the high priest of orthodoxy rending his raiment in wrath, and the magistrate of civil justice calling for water in the vain hope of cleansing himself of that stain of innocent blood that makes him the scarlet figure of history; the coronation ceremony of sorrow, one of the most wonderful things in the whole of recorded time; the crucifixion of the Innocent One before the eyes of his mother and of the disciple whom he loved; the soldiers gambling and throwing dice for his clothes; the terrible death by which he gave the world its most eternal symbol; and his final burial in the tomb of the rich man, his body swathed in Egyptian linen with costly spices and perfumes as though he had been a king’s son.” – Oscar Wilde, “De Profundis”

“Behind joy and laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous. But behind sorrow there is always sorrow. Pain, unlike pleasure, wears no mask. Truth in art is not any correspondence between the essential idea and the accidental existence; it is not the resemblance of shape to shadow, or of the form mirrored in the crystal to the form itself; it is no echo coming from a hollow hill, any more than it is a silver well of water in the valley that shows the moon to the moon and Narcissus to Narcissus. Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with spirit. For this reason there is no truth comparable to sorrow.” – Oscar Wilde, “De Profundis”

“Many men on their release carry their prison about with them into the air, and hide it as a secret disgrace in their hearts, and at length, like poor poisoned things, creep into some hole and die. It is wretched that they should have to do so, and it is wrong, terribly wrong, of society that it should force them to do so. Society takes upon itself the right to inflict appalling punishment on the individual, but it also has the supreme vice of shallowness, and fails to realise what it has done. When the man’s punishment is over, it leaves him to himself; that is to say, it abandons him at the very moment when its highest duty towards him begins. It is really ashamed of its own actions, and shuns those whom it has punished, as people shun a creditor whose debt they cannot pay, or one on whom they have inflicted an irreparable, an irremediable wrong.” – Oscar Wilde, “De Profundis”

“When I think about religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine.” – Oscar Wilde, “De Profundis” (emphasis in original)

“To become sensitive and pitiful the child must know that he has fellow-creatures who suffer as he has suffered, who feel the pains he has felt, and others which he can form some idea of, being capable of feeling them himself. Indeed, how can we let ourselves be stirred by pity unless we go beyond ourselves, and identify ourselves with the suffering animal, by leaving, so to speak, our own nature and taking his. We only suffer so far as we suppose he suffers; the suffering is not our but his. So no one becomes sensitive till his imagination is aroused and begins to carry him outside himself.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (quoted by Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak))

“It is at the moment when agrarian capitalism begins to establish itself that the means of stabilizing it in written balance accounts appears and it is also at the moment when social hierarchization is affirmed that writing constructs its first genealogists. . . . The appearance of writing is not fortuitous; after millennia of maturation in the systems of mythographic representation the linear notation of thought emerges at the same time as metal and slavery.” – André Leroi-Gourhan, La geste et la parole (quoted by Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak))

“Societies have assumed their final form: no longer is anything changed except by arms and cash. And since there is nothing to say to people besides give money, it is said with placards on street corners or by soldiers in their homes.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (quoted by Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak)) (emphasis in original)

“The bodily effect of our sufferings is less than one would suppose; it is memory that prolongs the pain, imagination which projects it into the future, and makes us really to be pitied. This is, I think, one of the reasons why we are more callous to the sufferings of animals than of men, although a fellow-feeling ought to make us identify ourselves equally with either. We scarcely pity the cart-horse in his shed, for we do not suppose that while he is eating his hay he is thinking of the blows he has received and the labors in store for him.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (quoted by Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak))

“In the experience of suffering as the suffering of the other, the imagination, as it opens us to a certain nonpresence within presence, is indispensable: the suffering of others is lived by comparison, as our nonpresent, past or future suffering. Pity would be impossible outside of this structure, which links imagination, time, and the other as one and the same opening into nonpresence.” – Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak)

“How are we moved to pity? By getting outside ourselves and identifying with a being who suffers. We suffer only as much as we believe him to suffer. It is not in ourselves, but in him that we suffer.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Languages (quoted by Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak))

“Writing may not have sufficed to consolidate human knowledge, but it may well have been indispensable to the consolidation of dominions. To bring the matter nearer to our own time: the European-wide movement towards compulsory education in the nineteenth century went hand in hand with the extension of military service and with proletarization. The struggle against illiteracy is thus indistinguishable from the increased powers exerted over the individual citizen by the central authority. For it is only when everyone can read that Authority can decree that ‘ignorance of law is no defence.’ “ – Claude Lévi-Strauss (quoted by Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak))

“To locate the promising marginal text, to disclose the undecidable moment, to pry it loose with the positive lever of the signifier; to reverse the resident hierarchy, only to displace it; to dismantle in order to reconstitute what is always already inscribed. Deconstruction in a nutshell. But take away the assurance of the text’s authority, the critic’s control, and the primacy of meaning, and the possession of this formula doesn’t guarantee much. Why should we undo and redo a text at all? Why not assume that the words and the author ‘mean what they say’? It is a complex question.” – Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Translator’s Preface,” Of Grammatology

“I would like to write to you so simply, so simply, so simply . . . so that above all the language remains self-evidently secret, as if it were being invented at every step.” – Jacques Derrida, The Post Card (trans. Alan Bass)