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Category: Lit & Crit

“The writers from the provinces are usually rescued from their dream of becoming writers, a terrible dream, difficult to abandon, when their parents die in the provinces and leave them an apartment or a small factory or, in the worst case, a widow and a few mouths to feed, and the writer from the provinces must return to his province, where invariably he ends up establishing a literary workshop; there, he preaches the goodness of the capital and convinces his students that there, in the capital, something really happens, and sooner rather than later, the students end up leaving for the capital, and so the whole cycle repeats itself, like the life cycle of frogs.” – Patricio Pron, “A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs” (trans. Janet Hendrickson)

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“I no longer wanted to write; in fact, I didn’t even try. It was like I knew I’d wasted time at the station and the train had passed, and now I had to walk to the fucking end of the world, to arrive there with my feet destroyed and discover that everyone else had left a while back and they’d left the bill on the table without paying and a few dirty plates that I’d have to wash in the kitchen to cancel the bill.” – Patricio Pron, “A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs” (trans. Janet Hendrickson)

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“I have no qualifications in the career or, rather, pursuit I chose for my journey through life, and I’ve long ceased to think of it in those terms, although I suppose I got off to a pretty good start. In the end, though, I lost sight of my fellow runners, the ones you’re so conscience of at first, when you’re in your twenties or thirties and keep glancing out of the corner of your eye at those behind, intent (or so you believe) on overtaking you, meanwhile calculating how big a lead the runners ahead have over you and conserving your energies as you imagine the best way of getting past them for the final sprint. But there are no sprints, and certainly no final sprints. Indeed, I stopped running a long time ago. There’s no point. Just walk at the pace that suits your feet and you’ll end up arriving at the place you set out for. Or else keep quite still: lately, I’ve had the feeling that it’s simply a matter of sitting and waiting, that it isn’t us who do the walking, but the things around us, and they won’t fail us; they never do, because nothing ever fails and everything ends up happening anyway.” – Javier Montes, “The Hotel Life” (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

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“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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“She had never had to deal with a policeman in her life, and it had never entered her mind to feel menaced by one. Policemen were neither friends nor enemies; they were part of the landscape, present for the purpose of upholding law and order; and if a policeman—for she had never thought of them as being very bright—seemed to forget his place, it was easy enough to make him remember it. Easy enough if one’s own place was more secure than his, and if one represented, or could bring to bear, a power greater than his own. For all policemen were bright enough to know who they were working for, and they were not working, anywhere in the world, for the powerless.” – James Baldwin, Another Country

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“The trouble with a secret life is that it is very frequently a secret from the person who lives it and not at all a secret for the people he encounters. He encounters, because he must encounter, those people who see his secrecy before they see anything else, and who drag these secrets out of him; sometimes with the intention of using them against him, sometimes with more benevolent intent; but, whatever the intent, the moment is awful and the accumulating revelation is an unspeakable anguish. The aim of the dreamer, after all, is merely to go on dreaming and not to be molested by the world. His dreams are his protection against the world. But the aims of life are antithetical to those of the dreamer, and the teeth of the world are sharp.” – James Baldwin, Another Country (emphasis in original)

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“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived—nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died—through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain.” – James Baldwin, Another Country

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“The white South said that it knew ‘niggers,’ and I was what the white South called a ‘nigger.’ Well, the white South had never known me—never known what I thought, what I felt. The white South said that I had a ‘place’ in life. Well. I had never felt any ‘place’; or, rather, my deepest instincts had always made me reject the ‘place’ to which the white South had assigned me. It had never occurred to me that I was in any way an inferior being. And no word that I had ever heard fall from the lips of southern white men had ever made me really doubt the worth of my own humanity.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“Whenever my environment had failed to support or nourish me, I had clutched at books; consequently, my belief in books had risen more out of a sense of desperation than from any abiding conviction of their ultimate value. . . . It had been my accidental reading of fiction and literary criticism that had evoked in me vague glimpses of life’s possibilities.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“If I were a member of the class that rules, I would post men in all the neighborhoods of the nation, not to spy upon or club rebellious workers, not to break strikes or disrupt unions; but to ferret out those who no longer respond to the system in which they live. I would make it known that the real danger does not stem from those who seek to grab their share of wealth through force, or from those who try to defend their property through violence, for both of those groups, by their affirmative acts, support the values of the system in which they live. The millions that I would fear are those who do not dream of the prizes that the nation holds forth, for it is in them, though they may not know it, that a revolution has taken place and is biding its time to translate itself into a new and strange way of life.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“Among the topics that southern white men did not like to discuss with Negroes were the following: American white women; the Ku Klux Klan; France, and how Negro soldiers fared while there; Frenchwomen; Jack Johnson; the entire northern part of the United States; the Civil War; Abraham Lincoln; U. S. Grant; General Sherman; Catholics; the Pope; Jews; the Republican party; slavery; social equality; Communism; Socialism; the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution; or any topic calling for positive knowledge or manly self-assertion on the part of the Negro.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“As long as there’s suffering, you can only be so happy. How can a person be happy if he has misfortune? Does money make a person happy? Some wealthy billionaire who can buy 30 cars and maybe buy a sports team, is that guy happy? What then would make him happier? Does it make him happy giving his money away to foreign countries? Is there more contentment in that than giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs? Nowhere does it say that one of the government’s responsibilities is to create jobs. That is a false premise. But if you like lies, go ahead and believe it. The government’s not going to create jobs. It doesn’t have to. People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it. We don’t see that happening. We see crime and inner cities exploding, with people who have nothing to do but meander around, turning to drink and drugs, into killers and jailbirds. They could all have work created for them by all these hotshot billionaires. For sure, that would create a lot of happiness. Now, I’m not saying they have to — I’m not talking about communism — but what do they do with their money? Do they use it in virtuous ways? If you have no idea what virtue is all about, look it up in a Greek dictionary. There’s nothing namby-pamby about it.” – Bob Dylan (interviewed by Robert Love in AARP The Magazine)

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“There is no known historical period when the Sahara has not been inhabited by man. Most of the other larger forms of animal life, whose abode it formerly was, have become extinct. If we believe the evidence of cave drawings, we can be sure that the giraffe, the hippopotamus and the rhinoceros were once dwellers in the region. The lion has disappeared from North Africa in our own time, likewise the ostrich. Now and then a crocodile is still discovered in some distant, hidden oasis pool, but the occurrence is so rare that when it happens it is a great event. The camel, of course, is not a native of Africa at all, but an importation from Asia, having arrived approximately at the time of the end of the Roman Empire—about when the last elephants were killed off. Large numbers of the herds of wild elephants that roamed the northern reaches of the desert were captured and trained for use in the Carthaginian army, but it was the Romans who finally annihilated the species to supply ivory for the European market.” – Paul Bowles, “Baptism of Solitude”

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“The Keiths are Keiths because they are not particularly handsome, not particularly intelligent, not particularly kind. A Keith would never train to compete in professional sports or practice an instrument until he became a maestro. Neither would a Keith jump in front of a loaded gun, but he would help you gather the contents of your grocery bag if you spilled it on the sidewalk. On a city bus, your gaze would pass pleasantly over a Keith as though over a stretch of ocean. There are warehouses of Stephanies, warehouses of Daniels, warehouses of Mayas, Georges, Crystals, Jamals, and Nicoles, but I am in Keiths. It’s always sad when one of your Keiths is harvested,” – Mary South, “Keith Prime”

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