November 14, 2005

Quotations I Kept

In a recent post I mentioned that I’ve been rereading my old notebooks lately. It’s something I do every few years, when I feel it’s time to summon and survey my powers, using the past as fuel for the future.

These were a writer’s occasional journals, intended to supply material for fiction. Mostly undated, they weren’t diaries – I rarely wrote down what I had done on any given day unless I was either traveling or going through a crisis, and in the latter case I sometimes cloaked it in fiction. The main categories of entries were:

• nature and city descriptions
• character sketches, some of people close to me and others of colorful individuals I barely knew, or had only heard of
• ideas for stories, novels, titles, character names
• philosophical, cultural, and psychological generalizations: they provided intellectual ballast for works of fiction, though they couldn’t have supported a real philosophical system
• adorable or wise things my two preschool sons said
• quotations from things I read

The fIrst four categories are just for my own use and the fifth deserves separate treatment, but for now I thought I’d share with you some quotations – a selection of a selection – that a young writer picked up and piled together to try to rebuild himself in 1986 and 1987.

…continued intimacy, familiarity, and love can result in falsehood…being thrown on the world may be a very desirable even if sad thing…in any true life you must go and be exposed outside the small circle that encompasses two or three heads in the same history of love. Try and stay, though, inside. See how long you can.

Life goes beyond the conscience of nice well-bred people. A good upbringing stops them from knowing what they think even.

One has to take so much, to be happy, out of the lives of others, and…one isn’t happy even then.

And she showed me how life withers when there are things we cannot share.
--Virginia Woolf, THE WAVES

Our friends – how distant, how mute, how seldom visited and little known.

Separation is normal.
--a peanut butter jar

There is time, still time/ for one who can groan/ to sing,/ for one who can sing to be healed.
--Galway Kinnell, THE STILL TIME

I was never shy, and that may be the reason I have never amounted to anything.
--Isaac Bashevis Singer, A FRIEND OF KAFKA

Man’s powers are not intended to be like an orchestra. Here, on the contrary, all the instruments must play, all the time, without stopping, and with all their might. After all, it is not intended for human ears, and the time a concert lasts, during which each instrument can hope to assert itself, is not available.

There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in rapture it will writhe before you.

“I no longer want love,” he said, supplying the word.

“No more do I. My experiences here have cured me. But I want others to want it.”

There are many ways of being a man; mine is to express what is deepest in my heart.

Only love can quiet the fear of love.
--Wendell Berry, THE FEAR OF LOVE

If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work.
--Beryl Markham, WEST WITH THE NIGHT

You must never run from anything immortal; it attracts their attention.
--Peter S. Beagle, THE LAST UNICORN

The sense of ‘self’ appears to be based on a continuous inference from the stability of body-image, the stability of outward perceptions, and the stability of time-perception. Feelings of ego dissolution readily and promptly occur if there is serious disorder or instability of [any of the three].
--Oliver Sacks, MIGRAINE

…what is prison-like about prisons is found in institutions whose members have broken no laws.
Erving Goffman, ASYLUMS

To be myself (I note) I need the illumination of other people’s eyes, and therefore cannot be entirely sure what is my self.
--Virginia Woolf, THE WAVES

To give style to one’s character, to organize the chaos of one’s passions, and to create a world of beauty here and now.
--paraphrased from Walter Kaufmann, NIETZSCHE, describing Nietzsche’s vision of the most powerful man

The whole process of life is due to life’s violation of our logical axioms…

What really exists is not things made but things in the making…
--William James, A PLURALISTIC UNIVERSE, ch. 6

Every smallest state of consciousness…overflows its own definition. Only concepts are self-identical; only “reason” deals with closed equations; nature is but a name for excess…

The sole condition of our having anything, no matter what, is that we should have so much of it, that we are fortunate if we do not grow sick of the sight and sound of it altogether. Everything is smothered in the litter that is fated to accompany it. Without too much you cannot have enough, of anything. Lots of inferior books…of tenth-rate men and women, as a condition of the few precious specimens…the gold-dust comes to birth with the quartz-sand all around it.

The only real marriage is of man to his powers of vision.
--Alfred Kazin, NEW YORK JEW, paraphrasing William Blake, THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL

Sing out – because no one can almost sing.
--Odetta, to the audience at a concert, July 12, 1987