You may rather be in Philadelphia

“I have read descriptions of Paradise which would make any sensible person stop wanting to go there: according to some, the spirits of the blessed spend all their time playing the flute; others sentence them to walk about for ever; others again claim that while up there they dream about their mistresses down here, considering that a hundred million years is not too long for them to lose their taste for being love-sick.” – Montesquieu, “Letter 125,” Persian Letters (trans. Betts)

The unreasoned reason

“The urge to greet every answer with another question is one we find in children not because it’s childish but because it’s natural.  Once you begin the search for knowledge, there is no obvious place to stop.  The fact that the desire for omniscience cannot be met does not make it either foolish or pathological.  Indeed, it is embodied in the principle of sufficient reason itself.  The principle of sufficient reason expresses the belief that we can find a reason for everything the world presents.  It is not an idea that we derive from the world, but one that we bring to it.” – Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought

The justification of consolation

“The difference between invoking collective good as a way of consoling us for individual suffering and invoking it as a way of justifying individual suffering is so fine that it is routinely ignored in political practice.” – Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (emphasis in original)

What if I plug this into that…?

“Recognizing one’s limits seems a form of fair trade: if we withdraw some of our claims on the world, surely those remaining will be met.  Yet the wish to determine the world can’t be coherently limited, for you cannot know which event will turn out to be not just another event, but one that will change your life.” – Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought

No, he’s not talking about Facebook

“Everywhere I see people who talk continually about themselves.  Their conversation is a mirror which always shows their own conceited faces.  They will talk to you about the tiniest events in their lives, which they expect to be magnified in your eyes by the interest that they themselves take in them.” – Montesquieu, “Letter 50,” Persian Letters (trans. Betts)

Hindbrain to the forefront

“Nothing is more depressing than consolations based on the necessity of evil, the uselessness of remedies, the inevitability of fate, the order of Providence, or the misery of the human condition.  It is ridiculous to try to alleviate misfortune by observing that we are born to be miserable.  It is much better to prevent the mind from indulging in such reflections, and to treat men as emotional beings, instead of treating them as rational.” – Montesquieu, “Letter 33,” Persian Letters (trans. Betts)

Running out of Gass

“A limp that tells the world we are compensating for an injury becomes a habit hard to break even when its cause has healed and there is no longer any ‘reason’ for it.  Except that the limp wishes to remain.  Our stutter wants to stay.  Our fall from a ladder would be forever like a cast-out angel if we didn’t fetch up in a lake of fire or at least on a floor.” — William H. Gass, “Auguste Rodin,” from A Temple of Texts

What the word means

“All of us have emotions urgently seeking release, and many of us have opinions we think would do the world some good; however, the poet must also be a maker, as the Greeks maintained, and, like the sculptor, like every other artist, should aim at adding real beings to the world, beings fully realized, not just things like tools and haberdashery that nature has neglected to provide, or memos and laws that society produces in abundance.” — William H. Gass, “Auguste Rodin,” from A Temple of Texts

Out here on the perimeter

“The world is not simply good and bad on different weekends like an inconsistent pitcher; we devour what we savor and what sustains us; out of ruins more ruins will after, in their polished towers, rise; lust is the muscle of love: its strength, its coarseness, its brutality; the heart beats and is beaten by its beating; not a shadow falls without the sun’s shine and the sun sears what it saves.  These are not the simplicities my saying has suggested.  In our civilization, the center has not held for a long time; neither the center nor the place where the center was can now be found.  We are disordered, arthritic fingers without palms.  Inside the silence of unmoving things, there are the sounds of repeated explosions.  Perhaps it is catastrophe breathing.” — William H. Gass, “Humors of Blood & Skin,” from A Temple of Texts

What writers can be like to live with

“There are those who like to sail alone around the world; they shut themselves up in towers to write or watch for fires; in huts encased in ice, they give up their lives to loneliness; who hunt for pelts in the mountains or are driven with aimless intensity from place to place like sand through a desert; fly solo, take to the woods.  Searching for a second self, they dislike distraction.  They want something to pit their strength against: angel or shade or element of nature that will assume the shape, and become the substance, of their enemy within.” — William H. Gass, “On Heroes and Tombs,” from A Temple of Texts

It counts whether it’s made to or not

“When Mies van der Rohe said that God was in the details, and Paul Valéry insisted that there were no details in execution, both meant the same thing—namely that every element of the work must be made to count.” — William H. Gass, “Three Lives,” from A Temple of Texts

Happy Easter

“I must say I trust hatred more than love.  It is frequently constructive, despite the propaganda to the contrary; it is less frequently practiced by hypocrites; it is more clearly understood; it is painfully purchased and therefore often earned; and its objects sometimes even deserve their hoped-for fate.  If you love the good, you have to hate evil.  I cannot imagine a love so puerile and thin and weak-kneed it cannot rage.” — William H. Gass, “Fifty Literary Pillars,” from A Temple of Texts

Let there be no misunderstanding

“Everything around us is terrifying.  There is no longer a common language.  No one understands anyone else.  I believe no one wants to understand.” — Elias Canetti, The Agony of Flies (quoted in “Influence,” from A Temple of Texts, by William H. Gass (emphasis in original))

But you can get it with tenure and a pension

“It may be that in a state of nature, since it is a state of war, the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, but in our present state of mediocrity, it is cowardly, shallow, tedious, banal, and uselessly drawn out.” — William H. Gass, “To a Young Friend Charged with Possession of the Classics,” from A Temple of Texts