Sunday, May 31, 2009

The other creature engendered by the problem of knowledge is Lotze's "hypothetical animal." More solitary than the statue that smells roses and at last becomes a man, this animal has but one sensitive spot on its skin, on the end of an antenna and therefore movable. The structure of this animal prevents it, as one can see, from receiving simultaneous perceptions, but Lotze believed that the ability to retract or project its sensitive antenna was enough to allow the all-but-isolated animal to discover the outside world (without the aid of Kantian categories) and to perceive the difference between a stationary object and a mobile one. Vaihinger admired this fiction; it is contained in the work titled Medizinische Psychologie, published in 1852.

--the Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges (1967)


Saturday, May 30, 2009

On account of the singular character of the water, we refused to taste it, supposing it to be polluted...I am at a loss to give a distinct idea of the nature of this liquid, and cannot do so without many words. Although it flowed with rapidity in all declivities where common water would do so, yet never, except when falling in a cascade, had it the customary appearance of limpidity...Where little declivity was found, it bore resemblance, as regards consistency, to a thick infusion of gum Arabic in common water. But this was only the least remarkable of its extraordinary qualities. It was not colorless, nor was it of any one uniform color--presenting to the eye, as it flowed, every possible shade of purple, like the hues of a changeable silk...Upon collecting a basinful, and allowing it so settle thoroughly, we perceived that the whole mass of liquid was made up of a number of distinct veins, each of a distinct hue, and that these veins did not commingle...Upon passing the blade of a knife athwart the veins, the water closed over it immediately, as with us, and also, in withdrawing it, all traces of the passage of the knife were instantly obliterated. If, however, the blade was passed down accurately between the two veins, a perfect separation was effected, which the power of cohesion did not immediately rectify.

--The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Edgar Allan Poe (1837)


Friday, May 29, 2009

Falstaff: Men of all sorts take a pride to gird at me: the brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not able to invent anything that tends to laughter, more than I invent or is invented on me: I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men. I do here walk before thee like a sow that hath overwhelmed all her litter but one. If the prince put thee into my service for any other reason than to set me off, why then I have no judgment. Thou whoreson mandrake, thou art fitter to be worn in my cap than to wait at my heels. I was never manned with an agate till now: but I will inset you neither in gold nor silver, but in vile apparel, and send you back again to your master, for a jewel,-- the juvenal, the prince your master, whose chin is not yet fledged. I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand than he shall get one on his cheek; and yet he will not stick to say his face is a face-royal: God may finish it when he will, 'tis not a hair amiss yet: he may keep it still at a face-royal, for a barber shall never earn sixpence out of it; and yet he'll be crowing as if he had writ man ever since his father was a bachelor. He may keep his own grace, but he's almost out of mine, I can assure him.

--Henry IV, Part Two, William Shakespeare, (1596-1599)


Thursday, May 28, 2009

From so simple a beginning...

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. -- The Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Duck and drake...

Duck and drake/Good quills make. Dearlings, attend to me. An illuminator should manage her own quills, as she who cuts the hay should whet her own scythe. One gets one’s pens from the five outer flight feathers, the pinions. Swan, goose, duck, crow, and raven make the best instruments, though you may use pheasant, pelican, peacock, and eagle as well. Some of you have swan, some goose feathers. Feathers from the left wing fit the right hand best and the right the left. First, we must heat the quill in the hot ashes of a fire. Less than a minute. Gently peel off the delicate skin by scraping the trunk of the quill with the back of your knife bladd. Now, rub the quill smoothly with the piece of soft silvery scales of lamprey found on your desks. Rub hard. The oil in the fish skin softens it. Next, spit on the barrel, rub briskly with the fish skin and put it in this ewer to soak all night in water. In the morning, we will harden the quills in a pan of hot sand. The cutting of the quills is easy enough, though you must work carefully. That’s for tomorrow.
-- from Akeldama, Melissa Green


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The more I consider this mighty tail...

The more I consider this mighty tail, the more do I deplore my inability to express it. At times there are gestures in it, which, though they would well grace the hand of man, remain wholly inexplicable. In an extensive herd, so remarkable, occasionally, are these mystic gestures, that I have heard hunters who have declared them akin to Free-Mason signs and symbols; that the whale, indeed, by these methods intelligently conversed with the world. Nor are there wanting other motions of the whale in his general body, full of strangeness, and unaccountable to his most experienced assailant. Dissect him how I may, then, I but go skin deep; I know him not, and never will. But if I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none?

Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen. But I cannot completely make out his back parts; and hint what he will about his face, I say again he has no face. Though all comparison in the way of general bulk between the whale and the elephant is preposterous, inasmuch as in that particular the elephant stands in much the same respect to the whale that a dog does to the elephant; nevertheless, there are not wanting some points of curious similitude; among these is the spout. It is well known that the elephant will often draw up water or dust in his trunk, and then elevating it, jet it forth in a stream. -- Moby Dick (1851), Herman  Melville


Monday, May 25, 2009

I was born with a caul...

I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don't know; all I know is, that there was but one solitary bidding, and that was from an attorney connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from drowning on any higher bargain. Consequently the advertisement was withdrawn at a dead loss - for as to sherry, my poor dear mother's own sherry was in the market then - and ten years afterwards, the caul was put up in a raffle down in our part of the country, to fifty members at half-a-crown a head, the winner to spend five shillings. I was present myself, and I remember to have felt quite uncomfortable and confused, at a part of myself being disposed of in that way. The caul was won, I recollect, by an old lady with a hand-basket, who, very reluctantly, produced from it the stipulated five shillings, all in halfpence, and twopence halfpenny short - as it took an immense time and a great waste of arithmetic, to endeavour without any effect to prove to her. It is a fact which will be long remembered as remarkable down there, that she was never drowned, but died triumphantly in bed, at ninety-two. I have understood that it was, to the last, her proudest boast, that she never had been on the water in her life, except upon a bridge; and that over her tea (to which she was extremely partial) she, to the last, expressed her indignation at the impiety of mariners and others, who had the presumption to go 'meandering' about the world. It was in vain to represent to her that some conveniences, tea perhaps included, resulted from this objectionable practice. She always returned, with greater emphasis and with an instinctive knowledge of the strength of her objection, 'Let us have no meandering.'

Not to meander myself, at present, I will go back to my birth.

--id Copperfield (1850), Charles Dickens


Sunday, May 24, 2009

At this point, I have an odd story to tell...

At this point I have an odd story to tell. I hope that my readers will listen patiently without laughing at me. When I was in middle school, we learned about Antony and Cleopatra in a history class. As you probably know, Antony engaged the forces of Augustus in a naval battle on the nile. Cleopatra followed Antony into battle, but when she saw that things looked bad for her side, she immediately turned her ship and fled; whereupon Antony, realizing that the heartless queen was deserting him, withdrew from the battle at a critical moment and chased after her.
"Boys," the history teacher said to us, "this man Antony pursued a woman and lost his life. He is the greatest fool in history, truly the laughingstock of the ages. Alas! that a valiant hero should meet his end in this way..."
The teacher's manner was so odd that we burst out laughing in his face. Naturally, I laughed too.
But here is the point. I couldn't understand why Antony had fallen in love with such a heartless woman. And it wasn't only Antony; before him, the great Julius Ceasar had disgraced himself by getting entangled with Cleopatra. There are many other instances. When you examine the great family quarrels of the Tokugawa period, or the rise and fall of states, you always find in the background the wiles of a terrifying enchantress. Now, are these wiles so ingeniously, so slyly contrived that anyone would be taken in by them? I think not. However shrewd Cleopatra may have been, it's unlikely that she was more resourceful than Ceasar or Antony. If a man is alert, he doesn't have to be a hero to discern when a woman is sincere and telling the truth. A man who lets himself be deceived, even though he knows he's destroying himself, is just too fainthearted. If this was really the case with Antony, then there's nothing so wonderful about heros..."

by Junichiro Tanizaki, Naomi (1925)


Saturday, May 23, 2009


INELUCTABLE MODALITY OF THE VISIBLE: AT LEAST THAT IF NO MORE, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o'er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Dominie Deasy kens them a'.

Won't you come to Sandymount,
Madeline the mare?

Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching. No, agallop: deline the mare.

Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see.

--Ulysses (1922), James Joyce


Friday, May 22, 2009

In that Empire...

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless...

-- "On Exactitude in Science" (1946), Jorges Luis Borges


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The village of Ukleyevo lay in a ravine...

The village of Ukleyevo lay in a ravine, so that from the highway and the railroad station all you could see was the belfry and the smokestacks of the cotton mills. When passersby asked what village it was, they would be told:
"The one where the verger ate all the caviar at the funeral."
Once, at the memorial dinner for the factory-owner Kostiukov, the old verger spotted black caviar among the hors d'oeuvres and greedily began to eat it; they pushed him, pulled him by the sleeve, but he was as if frozen with pleasure; he felt nothing and simply ate. He ate all the caviar, and there were about four pounds of it in the jar. And much time had passed since then, the verger was long dead, but the caviar was still remembered. Either the life there was so poor, or the people were unable to notice anything except this unimportant event that had happened ten years ago, but nothing else was ever told about the village of Ukleyevo.

-- In the Ravine (1900), Anton Chekhov


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I turned seventy on New Year's Day...

I turned seventy on New Year's Day 1992, at the age of thirty-five. Always an ominous landmark, the passing of the Biblical span, all the more so in a country where life-expectancy is markedly lower than the Old Testament allows; and in the case of yrs. truly, to whom six months consistently did a full year's damage, the moment had a special, extra piquancy. How easily the human mind 'normalises' the abnormal, with what rapidity the unthinkable becomes not only thinkable but humdrum, not worth thinking about! —Thus my 'condition', once it had been diagnosed as 'incurable', 'inevitable', and many other 'in's' that I can no longer call to mind, speedily became so dull a thing that not even I could bring myself to give it very much thought. The nightmare of my halved life was simply a Fact, and there is nothing to be said of a Fact except that it is so. —For may one negotiate with a Fact, sir? —In no wise! —May one stretch it, shrink it, condemn it, beg its pardon? No; or, it would be folly indeed to seek to do so. —How then are we to approach so intransigent, so absolute an Entity? —Sir, it cares not if you approach it or leave it alone; best, then, to accept it and go your ways. —And do Facts never change? Are old Facts never to be replaced by new ones, like lamps; like shoes and ships and every other blessed thing? —So: if they are, then it shows us only this—that they were never Facts to begin with, but mere Poses, Attitudes, and Shams. The true Fact is not your burning Candle, to subside limply in a stiff pool of wax; nor yet your Electric Bulb, so tender of filament, and short-lived as the Moth that seeks it out. Neither is it made of your common shoe-leather, nor should it spring any leaks. It shines! It walks! It floats! —Yes! —For every and a day.

-- The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), Salman Rushdie


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

As I was in no hurry to arrive...

As I was in no hurry to arrive at the Guermantes Reception to which I wasn’t certain I had been invited, I hung about outside; but the summer day seemed to be in no greater haste to stir. Although it was after nine o’clock, it was still the daylight that was giving the Luxor obelisk on the Place de la Concorde the appearance of pink nougat. Then it diluted the tint and changed the surface to a metallic substance, so that the obelisk not only became more precious but seemed more slender and almost flexible. One felt that one might have been able to twist this jewel, that one had perhaps already slightly bent it. The moon was now in the sky like a segment of an orange delicately peeled although nibbled at. But a few hours later it was to be fashioned of the most enduring gold. Nestling alone behind it, a poor little star was to serve as sole companion to the lonely moon, while the latter, keeping its friend protected but striding ahead more boldly, would brandish like an irresistible weapon, like an oriental symbol, its broad, magnificent golden crescent.

-- Sodom and Gomorrah (1921), Marcel Proust


Monday, May 18, 2009

It so happened that during those days...

It so happened that during those days, among so many other carnival attractions, there arrived in town the traveling show of the woman who had been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents. The admission to see her was not only less than the admission to see the angel, but people were permitted to ask her all manner of questions about her absurd state and to examine her up and down so that no one would ever doubt the truth of her horror. She was a frightful tarantula the size of a ram and with the head of a sad maiden. What was most heart-rending, however, was not her outlandish shape but the sincere affliction with which she recounted the details of her misfortune. While still practically a child she had sneaked out of her parents’ house to go to a dance, and while she was coming back through the woods after having danced all night without permission, a fearful thunderclap rent the sky in two and through the crack came the lightning bolt of brimstone that changed her into a spider. Her only nourishment came from the meatballs that charitable souls chose to toss into her mouth. A spectacle like that, full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat without even trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals. Besides, the few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder, like the blind man who didn’t recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn’t get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers.

-- "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" (1955), Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Sunday, May 17, 2009

If one should compare the light of day...

If one should compare the light of day to the life of man: sunrise to birth; sunset—the dropping down over the edge—to death; then as Ozzie Freedman wiggled through the trapdoor of the synagogue roof, his feet kicking backwards bronco-style at Rabbi Binder’s outstretched arms—at that moment the day was fifty years old. As a rule, fifty or fifty-five reflects accurately the age of late afternoons in November, for it is in that month, during those hours, that one’s awareness of light seems no longer a matter of seeing, but of hearing: light begins clicking away. In fact, as Ozzie locked shut the trapdoor in the rabbi’s face, the sharp click of the bolt into the lock might momentarily have been mistaken for the sound of the heavier gray that had just throbbed through the sky.

-- "The Conversion of the Jews" (1959), Philip Roth


Saturday, May 16, 2009

When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her; and in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized. Now she too would know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less.
The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.
We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.

--A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner, (1931)


Friday, May 15, 2009

William Einhorn was the first...

William Einhorn was the first superior man I knew. He had a brain and many enterprises, real directing power, philosophical capacity, and if I were methodical enough to take thought before an important and practical decision and also (N.B.) if I were really his disciple and not what I am, I’d ask myself, “What would Caesar suffer in this case? What would Machiavelli advise or Ulysses do? What would Einhorn think?” I’m not kidding when I enter Einhorn in this eminent list. It was him that I knew, and what I understand of them in him. Unless you want to say that we’re at the dwarf end of all times and mere children whose only share in grandeur is like a boy’s share in fairy-tale kings, beings of a different kind from times better and stronger than ours. But if we’re comparing men and men, not men and children or men and demigods, which is just what would please Caesar among us teeming democrats, and if we don’t have any special wish to abdicate into some different, lower form of existence out of shame for our defects before the golden faces of these and other old-time men, then I have the right to praise Einhorn and not care about smiles of derogation from those who think the race no longer has in any important degree the traits we honor in these fabulous names. But I don’t want to be pushed into exaggeration by such opinion, which is the opinion of students who, at all ages, feel their boyishness when they confront the past.

-- The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Saul Bellow


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clown alley, the generic name...

Clown alley, the generic name of all lodgings of all clowns, temporarily located in this city in the rotten wooden tenement where damp fell from the walls like dew, was a place where reigned the lugubrious atmosphere of a prison or a mad-house; amongst themselves, the clowns distilled the same kind of mutilated patience one finds amongst inmates of closed institutions, a willed and terrible suspension of being. At dinner time, the white faces fathered round the table, bathed in the acrid stream of the baboushka's fish soup, posessed the formal lifelesness of death masks, as if, in some essential sense, they themselves were absent from the repast and left untenanted replicas behind. -- Nights at the Circus <1984), Angela Carter


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The siss of the whisp of the sigh of the softzing at the stir of the ver grose O arundo of a long one in midias reeds: and shades began to glidder along the banks, greepsing, greepsing, greepsing, duusk unto duusk, and it was as glooming as gloaming could be in the waste of all peacable worlds. Metamnisia was allsoonome coloroform brune; citherior spiane an eaulande, innemorous and unnumerose. The Mookse had a sound eyes right but he could not all hear. The Gripes had light ears left yet he could but ill see. He ceased. And he ceased, tung and trit, and it was neversoever so dusk of both of them. But still Moo thought on the deeps of the undths he would profoundth come the morrokse and still Gri feeled of the scripes he would escipe if by grice he had luck enoupes.

--Finnegans Wake, James Joyce (1939)


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In such a city there could be no gray areas...

In such a city there could be no gray areas, or so it seemed. Things were what they were and nothing else, unambiguous, lacking the subtleties of drizzle, shade and chill. Under the scrutiny of such a sun there was no place to hide. People were everywhere on display, their bodies shining in the sunlight, scantily clothes, reminding her of advertisements. No mysteries here or depths; only surfaces and revelations. Yet to learn the city was to discover that this banal clarity was an illusion. The city was all treachery, all deception, a quick-change quicksand metropolis, hiding its nature, guarded and secret in spite of all its apparent nakedness. In such a place even the forces of destruction no longer needed the shelter of the dark. They burned out of the morning's brightness, dazzling the eye, and stabbed at you with sharp and fatal light. -Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie


Monday, May 11, 2009

He had read much of things...

He had read much of things as they are, and talked with too many people. Well-meaning philosophers had taught him to look into the logical relations of things, and analyse the processes which shaped his thoughts and fancies. Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value one above the other. Custom had dinned into his ears a superstitious reverence for that which tangibly and physically exists, and had made him secretly ashamed to dwell in visions. Wise men told him his simple fancies were inane and childish, and even more absurd because their actors persist in fancying them full of meaning and purpose as the blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.

-- "The Silver Key" (1929), H.P. Lovecraft


Sunday, May 10, 2009

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

--Self Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841)


Saturday, May 9, 2009

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking -- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll GO to hell" -- and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

--Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1884)


Friday, May 8, 2009

I walked up to the church in the dark, as I said. There was a very bright moon. It's strange how you never quite get used to the world at night. I have seen moonlight strong enough to cast shadows any number of times. And the wind is the same wind, rustling the same leaves, night or day. When I was a young boy I used to get up before every dawn of the world to fetch water and firewood. It was a very different life then. I remember walking out into the dark and feeling as if the dark were a great, cool sea and the houses and the sheds and the woods were all adrift in it, just about to ease off their moorings. I always felt like an intruder then, and I still do, as if the darkness had a claim on everything, one that I violated just by stepping out my door. This morning the world by moonlight seemed to be an immemorial acquaintance I had always meant to befriend. If there was ever a chance, it has passed. Strange to say, I feel a little that way about myself. 
In any case, it felt so necessary to me to walk up the road to the church and let myself in and sit there in the dark waiting for the dawn to come that I forgot all about the worry I might be causing your mother. It is actually hard for me to remember how mortal I am these days. There are pains, as I said, but not so frequent or even so severe when they come that I am as alarmed by them as I should be.
I must try to be more mindful of my condition. I started to lift you up into my arms the other day, the way I used to when you weren't quite so big and I wasn't quite so old. Then I saw your mother watching me with pure apprehension and I realized what a foolish thing to do that was. I just always loved the feeling of how strongly you held on, as if you were a monkey up in a tree. Boy skinniness and boy strength. 

--Gilead, Marilynne Robinson, (2004)


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic. 
They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed any one by magic--nor ever done any one the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one's head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.
A great magician has said of his profession that its practitioners "...must pound and rack their brains to make the least learning go in, but quarrelling always comes very naturally to them," and the York magicians had proved the truth of this for a number of years

--Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel, Susanna Clarke (2004)


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

To burn always...

To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes two persons, things, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring of the sense, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist's hands, or the face of one's friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. -- The Renaissance (1868), Walter Pater


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring: it all begins again with him. There really is a time before Flaubert and a time after him. Flaubert decisively established what most readers and writers think of as modern realist narration, and his ifnluence is almost too familiar to be visible. We hardly remark of good prose that it favors the telling and brilliant detail; that it privileges a high degree of visual noticing; that it maintains an unsentimental composure and knows how to withdraw, like a good valet, from superfluous commentary; that it judges good and bad neutrally; that it seeks out the truth, even at the cost of repelling us; and that the author's fingerprints on all this are, paradoxically, traceable but not visible. You can find some of this in defoe or Austen or Balzac, but not all of it until Flaubert....
...Flaubert perfected a technique that is essential to realist narration: the confusing of habitual detail with dynamic detail. Obviously, in that Paris street, the women cannot be yawning for the same length of time as the washing is quivering or the newspapers lying on the tables. Flaubert's details belong to different time signatures, some instantaneous and some recurrent, yet they are smoothed together as if they are all happening simultaneously.

--How Fiction works, James Wood, (2008)


Monday, May 4, 2009

The precise metaphysical procedures by which a book goes about writing another book need not concern us here. Suffice it to say that our human scribes remain entirely ignorant of their possession by bibliographic forces; the agent in question never doubts that his authorship is authentic. A bit of literary history may clarify matters. Unlike Charles Dickens's other novels, Little Dorrit was in fact written by the Faerie Queene. It is fortunate that Jane Austen's reputation does not rest on Northanger Abbey, for the author of that admirable satire was Paradise Regained in a frivolous mood. The twentieth century offers abundant examples, from the Pilgrim's Progress cranking out Atlas Shrugged, to Les Miserables composing the Jungle, to the Memoirs of Casanova penning Portnoy's Complaint.
Occasionally, of course, the alchemy proves so potent that the appropriated author never produces a single original word. Some compelling facts have accrued to this phenomenon. Every desert romance novel bearing the name E.M.Hull was actually written by Madame Bovary on a lark; Mein Kampf can claim credit for most of the Hallmark greeting cards printed between 1958 and 1967; Richard Nixon's entire oeuvre traces to a collective effort by the science-fiction slush pile at Ace Books. Now, as you might imagine, upon finding a large readership through one particular work, the average book aspires to repeat its success. Once the Wasteland and Other Poems generated its first Republican Party platform, it couldn't resist creating all the others. After Waiting for Godot acquired a taste for writing Windows software documentation, there was no stopping it.

--The Last Witchfinder, James Morrow (2006)


Sunday, May 3, 2009

`Are there any lions or tigers about here?' she asked timidly.

`It's only the Red King snoring,' said Tweedledee.

`Come and look at him!' the brothers cried, and they each took one of Alice's hands, and led her up to where the King was sleeping.

`Isn't he a LOVELY sight?" said Tweedledum.

Alice couldn't say honestly that he was. He had a tall red night-cap on, with a tassel, and he was lying crumpled up into a sort of untidy heap, and snoring loud -- `fit to snore his head off!' as Tweedledum remarked.

`I'm afraid he'll catch cold with lying on the damp grass,' said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl.

`He's dreaming now,' said Tweedledee: `and what do you think he's dreaming about?'

Alice said `Nobody can guess that.'

`Why, about YOU!' Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. `And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you'd be?'

`Where I am now, of course,' said Alice.

`Not you!' Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. `You'd be nowhere. Why, you're only a sort of thing in his dream!'

`If that there King was to wake,' added Tweedledum, `you'd go out -- bang! -- just like a candle!'

`I shouldn't!' Alice exclaimed indignantly. `Besides, if I'M only a sort of thing in his dream, what are YOU, I should like to know?'

`Ditto' said Tweedledum.

`Ditto, ditto' cried Tweedledee.

He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn't help saying, `Hush!

You'll be waking him, I'm afraid, if you make so much noise.'

`Well, it no use YOUR talking about waking him,' said Tweedledum, `when you're only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you're not real.'

`I AM real!' said Alice and began to cry.

`You won't make yourself a bit realler by crying,' Tweedledee remarked: `there's nothing to cry about.'

`If I wasn't real,' Alice said -- half-laughing though her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous -- `I shouldn't be able to cry.'

`I hope you don't suppose those are real tears?' Tweedledum interrupted in a tone of great contempt.

`I know they're talking nonsense,' Alice thought to herself: `and it's foolish to cry about it.' So she brushed away her tears, and went on as cheerfully as she could. `At any rate I'd better be getting out of the wood, for really it's coming on very dark. Do you think it's going to rain?'

--Through the looking Glass, Lewis Carroll (1871)


Saturday, May 2, 2009

tell me all about
Anna Livia! I want to hear all
about Anna Livia. Well, you know Anna Livia? Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia. Tell me all. You'll die when you hear. Well, you know, when the old cheb went futt and did what you know. Yes, I know, go on. Wash quit and don't be dabbling. Tuck up your sleeves and losen your talktapes. And don't butt me--hike!--when you bend. Or whatever it was they threed to make out he thried to two in the Fiendish park. He's an awful old reppe. look at the shirt of him! Look at the dirt of it! He has all my water black on me. And it steeping and stuping since this time last wik. How many goes is it I wonder I washed it? I know by heart the places he likes to saale, duddurty devil! Scorching my hand and starving my famine to make his private linen public. Wallop it well with your battle and clean it. My wrists are wrusty rubbing the mouldw stains. And the dneepers of wet and the gangres of sin it it! What was it he did a tail at all on Animal Sendai? And how long was he under loch and neagh? It was put in the newses what he did, nicies and priers, the King Fierceas Humphrey, with illysus distilling, exploits and all. But toms will till. I know he well. Temp untamed will hist for no man. As you spring so shall you neap. O, the roughty old rappe! Minxing marrage and making loof.

--Finnegans Wake, James Joyce (1939)


Friday, May 1, 2009

One always wonders why the sea is not much dirtier than it turns out to be. In the afternoon sun it is very calm. Even the motion of it is quiet, ending by adding to the general sense of stillness. There is a feeling like the one that comes when one rides on the back of a motorcycle, or moves in any open way at a great speed. Thoughts of the past and the present, hopes and fears for the future, all come with the speed of the vehicle, and at the end a man is quite exhausted, having gone again into parts of himself not often visited. The thoughts rising from the sea all have a painful hopelessness, so the man rises himself and goes walking along the edge of the wharf, making for other docks. A harried man comes into sight, balancing himself on a raft of timber logs packed together on the water, calling out the names of timber laborers around him, also standing on floating logs, and marking everything down on a tally sheet pinned to a board in his left hand. He shouts a lot, and in the afternoon sun the veins on his neck glisten with sweat. Farther along, a small ship, looking very old with the red and black paint on it, flying a flag the man has never noticed in this harbor, is being filled with cocoa in brown sacks. The driver of the long truck on which the bags are piled sings a plaintive song, and the sound, coming from such a man, surprises the listener completely. The singer has taken off his shirt, and the back that lies exposed is brown and muscular. Kofi Billy used to love this kind of work. Up on the little ship there is a knot of black bodies waiting to direct the coming load, and now and then faint sounds of many people's laughter come curling over the side from the hold below. In the small rooms above the deck itself two white men in white shirts and white shorts, one of them very short, stand looking downward at all the men below, at all the shouting and the labor below. The man leaves the ship behind and walks out in the direction of the main breakwater swinging out into the ocean. The sound of violent work grow fainter as the wind rises past him, and keeping to the edge where he can see quite far down into the sea, he walks without any hurry, not having to think about time or going back, feeling almost happy in his suspended loneliness, until he comes to a flight of stairs built into the side of the breakwater, leading down into the sea. He leans over and looks at the steps. They descend in a simple line all the way down, dipping into the sea until they are no longer visible from above. The man sits down, and, feeling now a slight pain at the back of his neck, throws back his head. Small clouds, very white, hold themselves, very far away, against a sky that is a pale, weak blue, and when the man looks down again into the sea the water of it looks green and deep. A sea gull, flying low, makes a single hoarse noise that disappears into the afternoon, and the white bird itself flies off in the direction of the harbor and its inaudible noise, beautiful and light on its wings.

--The Beautyful Ones are not yet born, Ayi Kwei Armah (1968)