Ground down and cast away

“Piety, a sign of strength in some characters, is in others a sign of weakness.  It is never without significance: for if on the one hand it is attractive in those who are virtuous, it completes the degradation of those who are not.” – Montesquieu, “Appendix 10,” Persian Letters (trans. Betts)

Kick it, it’ll wiggle

“It is no wonder that criticism is a more conservative, more academically elite, more racially exclusive club than fiction writing itself. To be a critic in the manner of Virginia Woolf—the default position of the Anglo-American critic, from F.R. Leavis to Lionel Trilling to John Updike to Helen Vendler—requires more than a simple lack of humility; it requires a self-assurance that one is speaking from the center of things, that one is qualified to pass judgment on any aesthetic object that comes along. This kind of criticism isn’t interested in discussion or debate, except in a very circumscribed sense; what it seeks, above all, is a universal validation of the writer’s own subjectivity.” – Jess Row, “The Novel Is Not Dead”

The Congress is in session

“Most legislators have been men of limited abilities who have become leaders by chance, and have taken scarcely anything into account except their own whims and prejudices.  They seem not even to have been aware of the grandeur and dignity of their task: they have passed the time making puerile regulations, which, it is true, have satisfied those without much intelligence, but have discredited them with men of sense.” —  Montesquieu, “Letter 125,” Persian Letters (trans. Betts)

Plugging in

“A story is a serving of palpated verbal material with feelings surging through it, and not just some caboodle of data about fabricated people and their antics.  If a reader is asked again and again to travel the distance between a capital letter and a period, every sentence ought to have been routed through the writer’s nervous system and acquired charged particles of language along the way.  A sentence ought to be offering a vista of the infinite.” – Gary Lutz (from Dylan Nice interview in Wag’s Revue)

Out of plasmids are paragraphs made

“Once the words begin to settle into their circumstance in a sentence and decide to make the most of their predicament, they look around and take notice of their neighbors. They seek out affinities, they adapt to each other, they begin to make adjustments in their appearance to try to blend in with each other better and enhance any resemblance. Pretty soon in the writer’s eyes the words in the sentence are all vibrating and destabilizing themselves: no longer solid and immutable, they start to flutter this way and that in playful receptivity, taking into themselves parts of neighboring words, or shedding parts of themselves into the gutter of the page or screen; and in this process of intimate mutation and transformation, the words swap alphabetary vitals and viscera, tiny bits and dabs of their languagey inner and outer natures; the words intermingle and blend and smear and recompose themselves. They begin to take on a similar typographical physique. The phrasing now feels literally all of a piece. The lonely space of the sentence feels colonized. There’s a sumptuousness, a roundedness, a dimensionality to what has emerged. The sentence feels filled in from end to end; there are no vacant segments along its length, no pockets of unperforming or underperforming verbal matter. The words of the sentence have in fact formed a united community.” – Gary Lutz, “The Sentence Is a Lonely Place”

Inhabitated is what the man said

“The sentence, with its narrow typographical confines, is a lonely place, the loneliest place for a writer, and the temptation for the writer to get out of one sentence as soon as possible and get going on the next sentence is entirely understandable. In fact, the conditions in just about any sentence soon enough become (shall we admit it?) claustrophobic, inhospitable, even hellish. But too often our habitual and hasty breaking away from one sentence to another results in sentences that remain undeveloped parcels of literary real estate, sentences that do not feel fully inhabitated and settled in by language.” – Gary Lutz, “The Sentence Is a Lonely Place”

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