“Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man’s hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man’s worth could there be? This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“The truth about the world is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“Far out on the desert to the north dustspouts rose wobbling and augered the earth and some said they’d heard of pilgrims borne aloft like dervishes in those mindless coils to be dropped broken and bleeding upon the desert again and there perhaps to watch the thing that had destroyed them lurch onward like some drunken djinn and resolve itself once more into the elements from which it sprang. Out of that whirlwind no voice spoke and the pilgrim lying in his broken bones may cry out and in his anguish he may rage, but rage at what? And if the dried and blackened shell of him is found among the sands by travelers to come yet who can discover the engine of his ruin?” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“The architects that preceded us in ceaseless labor, life after life, built on the inherited acropolis of law a constitutional structure ever-changing, ever enduring, unfinished, in parts neglected and decaying, obdurate yet imagined. Their legacy resides in the methods by which, case by case, generation by generation, the barriers of law channel the tumults of politics and power toward justice and equality, and away from violence and cruel oppression. Their genius was to deliver to us a temple whose innermost chamber contains a question. They could not decide for us, but they could give us the ways our decisions are assessed and explained. Having mastered the ways of the law that they taught us, we must in the end find our own answers to the awesome questions that mastery poses but cannot resolve. Someday, if we’re lucky, our descendants will struggle as we do with such decisions. Will they make them according to law or will they sell, or barter, or give them away to those who are only too happy to decide without having to explain?” – Philip C. Bobbitt, “Impeachment: A Handbook”

“A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he don’t want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It aint the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“No two mornings are ever quite the same. Some are cold and dark and rainy, and some—a great many, in fact—are like the beginning of the world. First the idea of morning comes, and then, though it is still utterly dark and you can’t see your hand in front of your face, a rooster crows, and you’d swear it was a mistake, because it is another twenty minutes before the first light, when the rooster crows again and again, and soon after that the birds begin, praising the feathered god who made them. With their whole hearts, every single bird in creation. And then comes the grand climax. The sky turns red, and the great fiery ball comes up over the eastern horizon. After which there is a coda. The birds repeat their praise, one bird at a time, and the rooster gives one last, thoughtful crow, and the beginning of things comes to an end.” – William Maxwell, “The lamplighter”

“Characters in fiction are seldom made out of whole cloth. A little of this person and something of that one and whatever else the novelist’s imagination suggests is how they come into being. The novelist hopes that by avoiding actual appearances and actual names (which are so much more convincing than the names he invents for them), by making tall people short and red-headed people blond, that sort of thing, the sources of the composite character will not be apparent.” – William Maxwell, “The Front and the Back Parts of the House”

“The view after seventy is breathtaking. What is lacking is someone, anyone, of the older generation to whom you can turn when you want to satisfy your curiosity about some detail of the landscape of the past. There is no longer any older generation. You have become it, while your mind was mostly on other matters.” – William Maxwell, “The Man in the Moon” (emphasis in original)

“Their mother had taught them that you can ask anybody anything, but it can’t always be, ‘Do I know you?’ That you had arms to bar yourself from people. That you had to watch what you touched after you had already gone ahead and touched some other thing first. That the most pestering thing on a man was the thing that kept playing tricks with how long it actually was.” – Gary Lutz, “People Shouldn’t Have to Be the Ones to Tell You”

“It’s so silly, and really it’s my own stupid fault. Ed’ll kill me, not for the money but like they say for the principle. You know. He thinks I’m a terrible slob that way, he’s a great one for believing in foreseeable actions. I lost the Buick last year, and the year before that I lost the baby in the parking lot. God, how I hate people of principle. All the persecutors of the world have been people of principle.” – Cynthia Ozick, “The Suitcase” (emphasis in original)

“That baby should follow baby is God’s trick on us, but surely we too can have a trick on God? If we fabricate with our syllables an immortality passed from the spines of the old to the shoulders of the young, even God cannot spite it. If the prayer-load that spilled upward from the mass graves should somehow survive! If not the thicket of lamentation itself, then the language on which it rode.” – Cynthia Ozick, “Envy; or, Yiddish in America”

“I had no idea that three-quarters of the material I would need for the rest of my writing life was already at my disposal. My father and mother. My brothers. The cast of larger-than-life characters—affectionate aunts, friends of the family, neighbors white and black—that I was presented with when I came into the world. The look of things. The weather. Men and women long at rest in the cemetery but vividly remembered. The Natural History of home: the suede glove on the front-hall table, the unfinished game of solitaire, the oriole’s nest suspended from the tip of the outermost branch of the elm tree, dandelions in the grass. All there, waiting for me to learn my trade and recognize instinctively what would make a story or sustain the complicated cross-weaving of longer fiction.” – William Maxwell, “Preface,” All the Days and Nights

“If I avoid metaphor, and if I have to think of a reason why, it may be that I don’t want to distract from the one thing that I’m concentrating on, and a metaphor immediately does that. It introduces some completely, even incongruous, other image and world. And it can work very beautifully, but maybe I don’t want to leave the scene of what I’m describing.” – Lydia Davis, (interviewed by Andrea Aguilar and Johanne Fronth-Nygren in Paris Review)

“Perhaps a revolution can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking; instead, new prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great unthinking mass.” – Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” (trans. Ted Humphrey)