“The astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves?” – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (trans. Robert Hurley, et al.) (emphasis in original)

“Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners – and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know.’ There aren’t many such people. Most of the earth’s inhabitants work to get by. They work because they have to. They didn’t pick this or that kind of job out of passion; the circumstances of their lives did the choosing for them. Loveless work, boring work, work valued only because others haven’t got even that much, however loveless and boring – this is one of the harshest human miseries.” – Wislawa Szymborska, “Nobel Lecture” (trans. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)

“I know God made the world, but I wish a priest would tell me why. Though he made it better than the priests know, he gave us leave to piss on the whole thing, and gave us two hands and a length of rope, and away with it, that’s in our remit, and then the hellish shit is over, enjoy, blessings, we’re going to hell in a handcart.” – Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (trans. Michael Hofmann)

“Yes, women are my weakness, they are the place where I am mortal, I kiss one, think of a second and eye up a third. Oh, women are my weakness, what can I do, I can’t help it, and if one day I go broke on account of women, then I’ll write Out of Stock on the door of my heart.” – Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (trans. Michael Hofmann)

“I know that I have to die like everyone else, and that displeases me, and I know every human born so far has died except for those now living, and that distresses me and makes most distinctions and doctrines look false or absurd or semiabsurd, but often I yearn to die, to have it be over, and then the doctrines look all right to me.” – Harold Brodkey, “Angel”

“Whoever thinks bread and baked goods made from depleted white flour can be improved by artificial additions is mistaken, and is leading their clients astray. Nature has laws, and it punished infractions. The impaired health of almost every advanced nation may be traced to indulgence in devalued and refined foods.” – Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (trans. Michael Hofmann)

“People are somewhat gorgeous collections of chemical fires, aren’t they? Cells and organs burn and smolder, each one, and hot electricity flows and creates storms of further currents, magnetisms and species of gravity—we are towers of kinds of fires, down to the tiniest constituents of ourselves, whatever those are, those things burn like stars in space, in helpless mimicry of the vastness out there, electrons and neutrons, planets and suns, so that we are made of universes of fires contained in skin and placed in turn within a turning and lumbering universe of fires.” – Harold Brodkey, “Angel”

“Each thing in the universe, with or without consciousness, has intent; a limitless will is a bloody tyrant-emperor: I mean, each thing tries to run everything, to have its way. Everything is imperial—without exception. Everything drags at you. This is a universe of trash tyrants. You have to sacrifice your life to prove goodness exists.” – Harold Brodkey, “The Boys on Their Bikes”

“For a woman, surely, words are the prime element of force, of being able to enforce things on others, to coerce them. The prime realistic thing, in a certain sense, for women in this world is words, words insofar as they contain law and announcements of principles, the semiminor apocalypses of Utopia, or at least of peace on earth.” – Harold Brodkey, “Ceil” (emphasis in original)

“Some people speak of the infant’s love for its mother; how clever they are to name that sleeping-and-waking, the dependencies and dreams, as love. I don’t think there is any possible single name for the life-and-death mind-and-language thing of a woman with an infant. The nature of almost any real moment makes almost all theory a sweet, maybe boyish farce far gone in willfulness. The comfort and shock of using tremendous abstract terms as truth—when how can they be true? in what way can they be true?—permits us to explain a fleshly event without having to toy with the enormous emotions of actuality.” – Harold Brodkey, “Largely an Oral History of My Mother” (emphasis in original)

“Feelings as they occur are experienced as if they were episodes in Kafka, overloaded with hints of meaning that reek of eternity and the inexplicable and suggest your dying—always your dying—at the hands of a murderousness in events if you are not immediately soothed, if everything is not explained at once. It is your own selfishness or shamefulness, or someone else’s or perhaps something in fate itself, that is the murderer; or what kills is the proof that your pain is minor and is the responsibility of someone who does not care.” – Harold Brodkey, “A Story in an Almost Classical Mode”

“Every serious writer has to be original; he cannot be content to do or to offer a version of what has been done before. And every serious writer as a result becomes aware of this question of form; because he knows that however much he might have been educated and stimulated by the writers he has read or reads, the forms matched the experience of those writers, and do not strictly suit his own.” – V. S. Naipaul, “On Being a Writer”

“Thirteen is an age that gives rise to dramas: it is a prison cell of an age, closed off from childhood by the onset of sexual capacity and set apart from the life one is yet to have by a remainder of innocence. Of course, that remainder does not last long. Responsibility and Conscience, mistaken or not, come to announce that we are to be identified from then on by what we do to other people: they free us from limitations—and from innocence—and bind us into a new condition.” – Harold Brodkey, “A Story in an Almost Classical Mode”

“It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. Consequently, we must believe that ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These experiences are not ‘recollected,’ and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is ‘tranquil’ only in that it is a passive attending upon the event. Of course this is not quite the whole story. There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate. In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him ‘personal.’ Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” – T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

“What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered.” – T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”