Some of these are, it seems to me, relevant to AI and knowledge representation. All of them are quotes that I often think of.
I also have a small collection of cartoons and illustrations.
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
Lest we should see where we are;
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the dark
Who have never been happy or good.
-- W.H. Auden, from "September 1, 1939"
[as excerpted and slightly misquoted (the original has "Children afraid of the night") without attribution by George Orwell in "Pleasure Spots". Personally, Orwell's version seems to me an improvement.]
Suprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the
inconvenience is often considerable.
-- Jane Austen, Emma [Mr. Knightly]
Fragmentary, pale, momentary; almost nothing; glimpsed and gone; as it
were, a faint human hand thrust up, never to reappear, from beneath the
rolling waters of Time, he forever haunts my memory and solicits my
weak imagination. Nothing is told of him but that once, abruptly,
he asked a question and received an answer.
-- Max Beerbohm, "A Clergyman" , And Even Now
I am an artist and an engineer,
Giv'n o'er to subtile dreams of what shall be
On this our planet. I foresee a day
When men shall skim the earth i' certain chairs
Not drawn by horses but sped on by oil
Or other matter, and shall thread the sky
-- Max Beerbohm, " `Savonarola' Brown" Seven Men
If the children of today can get electric grain elevators and tin
automobiles for Christmas, why aren't they that much better off than
their grandfathers who got only wristlets? Learning the value of money,
which seems to be the only argument of the stand-patters, doesn't hold
very much water as a Christmas slogan. The value of money can be learned
in just about five minutes when the time comes, but Christmas is not
--- Robert Benchley, "A Good Old-Fashioned Christmas."
Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l'admire. (A fool can always find a
bigger fool to admire him.)
--- Nicholas Boileau, "L'Art Poétique"
This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast --- man's laws,
not God's --- and if you cut them down ... d'you really think you could
stand upright, in the wind that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the
Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety's sake.
-- Robert Bolt, ``A Man for All Seasons''.
Let us admit what all idealists admit: that the nature of the world is hallucinatory. Let us do what no idealist has done; let us look for the unrealities that confirm that nature. We shall find them, I believe, in the antinomies of Kant and in Zeno's dialectic.
``The greatest sorcerer [writes Novalis memorably] would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of taking his own phantasmagoria for autonomous apparitions. Would not this be true of us?''
I believe that it is. We (the undivided divinity that operates
within us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it strong, mysterious,
visible, ubiquitous in space and secure in time; but we have allowed
tenuous, eternal interstices of injustice in its structure so we may
know that it is false.
-- Jorge Luis Borges, ``Avatars of the Tortoise,'' Other Inquisitions.
[The quote from Novalis is from Teplitz Fragments #48.]
The purpose which guided him was not impossible, though it was
supernatural. He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him with
minute integrity and insert him into reality.
-- Jorge Luis Borges, "The Circular Ruins"
That crowded day gave me three heterogeneous surprises: the physical
happiness I experienced when they told me that Paris had been liberated; the
discovery that a collective emotion can be noble; the enigmatic and obvious
enthusiasm of many who were supporters of Hitler.
-- Jorge Luis Borges, "A Comment on August 23, 1944"
Sonnet (Suggested by some of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research)
Not with vain tears, when we're beyond the sun
We'll beat on the substantial doors, nor tread
Those dusty high-roads of the aimless dead
Plaintive for Earth; but rather turn and run
Down some close-covered by-way of the air,
Some low sweet alley between wind and wind,
Stoop under faint gleams, thread the shadows,find
Some whispering ghost-forgotten nook, and there
Spend in pure converse our eternal day;
Think each in each, immediately wise;
Learn all we lacked before; hear, know, and say
What this tumultuous body now denies;
And feel, who have laid our groping hands away;
And see, no longer blinded by our eyes.
-- Rupert Brooke
After the maggid's [the Maggid of Mezrich] death, his disciples came together and talked about the things he had done. When it was Rabbi Schneur Zalman's turn he asked them, "Do you know why our master went to the pond every day at dawn and stayed there for a little while before coming home again?" They did not know why. Rabbi Zalman continued, "He was learning the song with which the frogs praise God. It takes a very long time to learn that song."
--- Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim vol. 1.
Guilt, after all is not just self-inflicted injury, but productive moral work. At any time, "guilty" will describe almost any conscience functioning as it should.
--- Christopher Caldwell, "No way out: When evil was a social system", The New Republic July 15, 2013.
To a man to whom power is all-important, other men are judged by how much they give to him. So it was with Robert Moses and Vincent R. Impellitteri. Moses' final evaluation of the bumbling little man who had presented such a pathetic figure in his high office: ``He was a good mayor."
To a man to whom power is all-important, other men matter only so long as they possess power.
So it was with Robert Moses and Vincent R. Impellitteri. Years after his retirement, the one-time mayor would sit for an interview in the law offices where he was kept, with little work to do, as window dressing ...
The one-time mayor was almost pathetically glad to have someone to talk to about his days as mayor. And he was very glad indeed to talk about Bob Moses, once he had taken care to make sure the interviewer understood that it had always been he, not Moses, who had given the orders during the old days. (``He would get to Gracie Mansion early in the morning. He had what he called an agenda.'' Pause. ``And sometimes I had an agenda.'') ...
He went on for some time reminiscing about how close he and Moses had been. Then, however, he was asked when he had last seen Moses. And the sincere, friendly face turned sad as he tried, in vain, to recall the last time he had seen the big, charming, brilliant man who had once been so friendly to him.
``I haven't seen him recently,'' he said at last.
--- Robert Caro, The Power Broker
Many of the high-flown metaphysical and moral conclusions drawn from `Celtic'
art by its admiring critics are suspiciously like an elaboration of the idea
that curves are more natural than corners. With a curve, like with a Celt,
you might be anywhere and one thing flows into another; with a corner, like
with an Anglo-Saxon, you know where you are: nature makes curves, humanity makes
-- Malcolm Chapman, The Celts: The Construction of a Myth p. 226.
He began describing very minutely the incident of the kiss, and a moment
later relapsed into silence. . . . In the course of that moment he had
told everything, and it surprised him dreadfully to find how short a
time it took him to tell it. He had imagined that he could have been
telling the story of the kiss till next morning.
-- Anton Chekhov, "The Kiss"
All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you
leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you
leave it to a torrent of change.
-- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Common sense is a wild thing, savage and beyond rules.
-- G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study.
The bolder and freer [a lad] seems, the more the traditions of the college
or the rules of the club will hold him in their gyves of gossamer; and the
less afraid he is of his enemies, the more cravenly he will be afraid of
his friends. Herein lies indeed the darkest peril of our ethical doubt
and chaos. The fear is that as morals become less urgent, manners will
become more so; and men who have forgotten the fear of God will retain
the fear of Littimer [ from David Copperfield].
We shall merely sink into a much meaner bondage.
For when you break the great laws, you do not get liberty; you do not
even get anarchy. You get the small laws.
-- G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study.
We are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance.
We have engrossed to ourselves, in a time when other powerful nations were
paralysed by barbarism or internal war, an altogether disproportionate
share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in
territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and
splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by
force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.
--- Winston Churchill, paper sent to the Cabinet, January 1914.
Quoted in Clive Ponting, Churchill, p. 132, with the citation CAB (Cabinet paper) 37/116/48 10.1.14. When Churchill later published this in The World Crisis (p. 185) in 1923. he toned it down, deleting the words "an innocent record and", and "mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force", and changing "altogether disproportionate" to "immense".
The great churchmen of the eleventh and twelfth centuries came from all over
Europe. Anselm came from Aosta, via Normandy, to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
Lanfranc had made the same journey, starting from Pavia. ... It couldn't
happen in the Church, or politics, today; one can't imagine two consecutive
archbishops of Canterbury being Italian. But it could happen --- does happen
--- in the field of science; which shows that where some way of thought or
human activity is really vital to us, internationalism is accepted
-- Kenneth Clark, Civilisation
The occupational vice of academics is vanity.
--- Philip J. Davis, in conversation.
[Lest] you say in your heart, "My strength and the power of my hand has made this wealth for me."
-- Deuteronomy 8:17.
All the other swindlers on earth are nothing to the self-swindlers, and
with such pretences did I cheat myself. Surely a curious thing.
That I should innocently take a bad half-crown of somebody else's
manufacture is reasonable enough; but that I should knowingly reckon
the spurious coin of my own as good money! An obliging stranger,
under pretense of compactly folding up my bank-notes for security's
sake, abstracts the notes and gives me nutshells; but what is his sleight
of hand to mine, when I fold up my own nutshells and pass them to myself
-- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations chapter 28.
"Kate, my dear," said Mrs. Nickelby, "I don't know how it is, but a fine warm summer day like this, with the birds singing in every direction, always puts me in mind of roast pig, with sage and onion sauce and made gravy."
"That is a curious association of ideas, is it not, mamma?"
"Upon my word, my dear, I don't know" replied Mrs. Nickleby. "Roast pig ---
let me see. On the day five weeks after you were christened, we had a roast
--- no that couldn't have been a pig, either, because I recollect there were
a pair of them to carve, and your poor papa and I could never have thought
of sitting down to two pigs --- they must have been partridges. Roast pig!
I hardly think we ever could have had one, now I come to remember, for your
papa could never bear the sight of them in the shops, and used to say they
always put him in mind of very little babies, only the pigs had much fairer
complexions; and he had a horror of little babies, too, because he couldn't
very well afford any increase to his family and had a natural dislike to the
subject. It's very odd now, what can have put that in my head. I recollect
dining once at Mrs. Bevan's, in that broad street, round the corner by the
coachmaker's, where the tipsy man fell through the cellar-flap of an empty
house nearly a week before quarter-day and wasn't found till the new tenant
went in --- and we had roast pig there. It must be that, I think that
reminds me of it, especially as there was a little bird in the room that
would keep on singing all the time of dinner --- at least, not a little bird,
for it was a parrot, and he didn't sing exactly, for he talked and swore
dreadfully, but I think it must be that."
-- Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, chapter 41.
'The Cup' is a lovely poem, and the scenery, grouping &c. are beyond all
praise; but really as a play there is nothing in it. There are
just two events in it. The villian (Mr. Irving) tries to carry off
Camma and kills her husband --- and afterwards wants her to marry him and
share his throne. Whereupon she does the (dramatically) obvious thing, accepts
him, and makes a poisoned cup a very early ingredient of the marriage
ceremony. Both drink it so both die. Why she should die,
Mr. Tennyson only knows! I suppose he would say, 'It gives a roundness and
finish to the thing'. So it does; but a heroine who would poison herself for
that must have an almost morbid fondness for roundness and finish.
--- Charles L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), letter to Helen Feilden, April 12, 1881
As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and
simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.
-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, chapter 1.
You have not said to yourself, "I must know this exactly," "I must understand
this exactly", "I must do this exactly".
-- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
There are three adjectives in English that are generally used pejoratively,
but, if things were rightly understood, would be terms of the highest
praise: "pharisaical", "puritanical", and "jesuitical".
-- Louis Finkelstein, in addressing a meeting of Jesuits [quoted from memory]
It is hard to love Augustine. He stands as the source of some of the most baleful traditions of thought in Western culture. All humans, he held, are born indelibly marked, indelibly marred, by original sin. Human desire, especially sexual desire, is a premier sign and effect of Adam's fall. Unbaptized babies go to hell. Salvation is a question not of human effort, but of divine predestination. The church, to propound spiritual truth and to protect it, should avail itself of the coercive power of the state. These are all Augustinian teachings.
And yet it is hard not to love Augustine. He states his questions
and his convictions about the human condition with such ardor that
the flames of his ideas leap across the chasm of sixteen centuries
from his lifetime into our own. Against the best philosophy of his
day, he insisted that the human being was more than a mind
sojourning in an inconvenient body. Flesh, he urged, truly is the
native home of spirit: body and soul belong together, and together
make up the whole person. Memory, he asserted, defines and
constitutes self. And love, as he passionately and relentlessly
wrote, is the hinge of the soul, the motor of the will. What moves
us is not what we know, but what we want. We are what we love.
-- Textual Healing by Paula Fredricksen, The New Republic July 11, 2005.
The company of the ruler is the darkness of the longest night. Seek light
from the sun, and be hopeful for its rise.
Would Time but await the close of our favorite follies, we should
all be young men, all of us, and until Doom's Day.
-- Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Wakefield", Twice Told Tales
I can't help preferring champagne to ditch water --- I doubt if the universe
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Letter to William James, March 24, 1907.
To believe that wherever a best manuscript gives possible readings it
gives true readings, and that only where it gives impossible readings does
it give false readings is to believe that an incompetent editor is the darling
of Providence, which has given its angels charge over him lest at any time
his sloth and folly should produce their natural results and incur their
appropriate penalty. Chance and the common course of nature will not bring
it to pass that the readings of an MS are right whenever they are possible
and impossible wherever they are wrong; that requires divine intervention;
and when one considers the history of man and the spectacle of the universe
I hope one may say without impiety that divine intervention might have been
better employed elsewhere.
-- A.E. Housman, Preface to Manilius
And oh, my son, be, on the one hand, good,
And do not, on the other hand, be bad,
For that is very much the safest plan.
-- A.E. Housman, "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy"
The night is freezing fast
Tomorrow comes December
And winterfalls of old
Are with me from the past;
And chiefly I remember
How Dick would hate the cold.
Fall, winter, fall; for he,
Prompt hand and headpiece clever,
Has woven a winter robe,
And made of earth and sea
His overcoat for ever,
And wears the turning globe.
--- A.E. Housman, "The Night Is Freezing Fast"
We dream of Joseph and weave him an amazing technicolor coat; yet, like the emperor, he is really wearing nothing but ideas.
כה אמר ד' אל יתהלל חכם בחכמתו ואל יתהלל הגבור בגבורתו אל יתהלל עשיר בעשרו.
Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise glory in his wisdom; and let not
the strong glory in his strength; let not the rich glory in his riches.
But let him who glories, glory in this:
that he understands and knows Me. For
I the Lord act with kindness, justice, and righteousness in the world;
for in these I delight, declares the Lord.
-- Jeremiah 9:22-23.
Life is not long, and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation
how it shall be spent; deliberation, which those who begin it by prudence,
and continue it with subtilty, must, after long expence of thought, conclude
by chance. To prefer one future mode of life to another upon just reasons,
requires faculties which it has not pleased our Creator to give us.
If therefore the profession you have chosen has some unexpected
inconveniences, console yourself by reflecting that no profession is without
them; and that all the importunities and perplexities of business are
softness and luxury, compared with the incessant cravings of vacancy and
the unsatisfactory expedients of idleness.
-- Samuel Johnson, Letter to James Boswell, Aug. 21, 1766.
Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity; so they have betaken
themselves to error.
Truth, Sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so
they are gone to milk the bull.
-- Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson July 21, 1762.
As someone said to me -- I can't remember now who it was -- it is really
remarkable that when you wake up in the morning you nearly always find
everything in exactly the same place as the evening before. For when
asleep and dreaming you are, apparently at least, in an essentially
different state from that of wakefulness; and therefore, as that man
truly said, it requires enormous presence of mind or rather quickness
of wit, when opening your eyes to seize hold as it were of everything
in the room at exactly the same place where you had let it go on the
previous evening. That was why, he said, the moment of waking up was
the riskiest moment of the day.
-- Franz Kafka, deleted passage from The Trial.
The plain, discomfiting fact is that every one of us who has watched plays
and films or read books or listened to music or looked at paintings
and architecture is, in some measure, self-deceived. Filed away in
the recesses of our minds are thousands of opinions that we have accumulated
through our lives, and they make us think that we know what we think on
all these subjects. We do not. All we know is what we once thought, and any
earlier view of a work, if tested, might be hugely different from what
we would think now.
-- Stanley Kaufmann, "In Our Heads," The New Republic August 21, 2000, pp. 32-34.
At St. Patrick's College, the idea of woman as enemy embraced even the beautiful Baroness von Trapp, who came with her singing daughters and sons to Australia in the nineteen-fifties and performed at the seminary. In an unprecedented breach of tradition, the von Trapps were admitted to the chapel for High Mass, a testament to the Baroness's standing within the Church, and to the fact that she travelled with her own chaplain. As the von Trapps sang some of the Church's most famous hymns --- "Panis Angelicus," "Veni Creator Spiritus" --- a number of us began to loose our vocations in favor of the sunny, sumptuous womanhood we saw joined in harmony.
The rector had prepared a room in which the visitors and their chaplain could dine after the service. It was unimaginable that they should be permitted to eat with the men of the seminary. But as we proceeded in silence up the corridor to our own refectory we were delighted to hear the Baroness rejecting the idea of separate dining and demanding blithely to eat with "the boys." Having sung their Lorelei plainchant, our dazzling visitors in dirndls joined us.
For days afterward, the von Trapps were the talk of the seminary, so
much so that a few seminarians declared themselves unfit for the priesthood
and left. The young men who departed were not regarded as responding
to something healthy in themselves; they were pitied by the rest of us
--- including me --- as failures.
--- Thomas Keneally, "Cold Sanctuary: How the Church lost its mission" New Yorker, June 17,2002.
Refutations, inconsistencies, criticism in general in general are very
important but only if they lead to improvement. A mere refutation
is no victory. If mere criticism, even though correct, had
authority, Berkeley would have stopped the development of mathematics
and Dirac could not have found an editor for his papers.
-- Imre Lakatos, Proofs and Refutations
Aorta (pronounced A-orta) is the vessel through which courses the life-blood of Strine [Australian] public opinion. Aorta is a composite but non-existant Authority which is held responsible for practically everything unpleasant in the Strine way of life; for the punishment of criminals; for the weather; for the Bomb and the Pill; for all public transport; and for all the manifold irritating trivia of everyday living. ...
Aorta is, in fact, the personification of the benevolently paternal welfare State to which all Strines - being fiercely independant and individualistic - appeal for help and comfort in moments of frustration and anguish. The following are typical examples of such appeals. ...
`Aorta stop all these transistors from cummer ninner the country. Look what they doone to the weather. All this rine! Doan tell me it's not all these transistors - an all these hydrigen bombs too. Aorta stoppem!'
`Aorta have more buses. An aorta mikem smaller so they don't take up
half the road. An aorta put more seats innem so you doan tefter stann
all the time. An aorta have more room innem - you carn tardly move
innem air so crairded. Aorta do something about it.'
-- Afferbeck Lauder, Let Stalk Strine .
As we close it [Boswell's Life of Johnson], the club room is before us, and the table on which stand the omelet for Nugent and the lemons for Johnson. There are assembled those heads which live forever on the canvas of Reynolds. There are the spectacles of Burke and the tall thin form of Langton, the courtly sneer of Beauclerk and the beaming smile of Garrick, Gibbon tapping his snuffbox and Sir Joshua with his trumpet in his ear. In the foreground is that strange figure which is as familiar to us as the figures of those among whom we have been brought up, the gigantic body, the huge massy face, seamed with the scars of disease, the brown coat, the black worsted stockings, the grey wig with the scorched foretop, the dirty hands, the nails bitten and pared to the quick. We see the eyes and mouth moving with convulsive twitches; we see the heavy form rolling; we hear it puffing; and then comes the ``Why, sir!'', and ``What then, sir!'' and the ``No, sir!'' and the ``You don't see your way through the question, sir!''
What a singular destiny has been that of this remarkable man! To be regarded
in his own age as a classic, and in ours as a companion! To receive from
his contemporaries that full homage which men of genius have in general
received only from posterity! To be more intimately known to posterity
than other men are known to their contemporaries! That kind of fame which is
commonly the most transient is in his case the most durable. The reputation
of those writings which he probably expected to be immortal is every day
fading; while those peculiarities of manner and that careless table-talk, the
memory of which, he probably thought, would die with him, are likely to
be remembered as long as the English language is spoken in any quarter of
-- Thomas Macaulay, "Samuel Johnson".
In the preface, we are informed that the author, notwithstanding some
statements to the contrary, was always opposed to the Catholic Claims.
We fully believe this; both because we are sure that Mr. Southey is
incapable of publishing a deliberate falsehood, and because his assertion
is in itself probable. We should have expected that, even in his wildest
paroxysms of democratic enthusiasm, Mr. Southey would have felt no wish
to see a simple remedy applied to a great practical evil. We should
have expected that the only measure which all the great statesmen of
two generations have agreed with each other in supporting would be the
only measure which Mr. Southey would have agreed with himself in opposing.
He has passed from one extreme of political opinion to another, as
Satan in Milton went round the globe, contriving constantly to 'ride
with darkness.' Wherever the thickest shadow of the night may at any
moment chance to fall, there is Mr. Southey. It is not everybody who
could have so dexterously avoided blundering on the daylight in the
course of a journey to the antipodes.
--- Thomas Macaulay, "Southey's Colloquies on Society"
The end result of artificial intelligence will be to show that intelligence
is impossible, and that the reports of it have been due to experimental
-- Drew McDermott, in conversation [quoted from memory].
We are going farther and farther away from the light at Sinai, yet we do
not come any closer to the light of the Messiah.
-- Menahem Mendel of Kotzk.
Someone once described Shelley as a beautiful and ineffective angel beating
his luminous wings against the void in vain.
Which is certainly describing with might and main.
But probably means that we are all brothers under our pelts.
And that Shelley went around pulling doors marked PUSH and pushing doors marked PULL just like everybody else.
-- Ogden Nash, You and Me and P.B. Shelley
The common belief that we gain "historical perspective" with increasing
distance seems to me utterly to misrepresent the actual situation. What we
gain is merely confidence in generalizations which we would never dare make
if we had access to the real wealth of contemporary evidence.
--- Otto Neugebauer, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity
Who has heard honey-talk from Finn before strangers, Finn that is wind-quick,
Finn that is a better man than God? Or who has seen the like of Finn or seen
the living semblance of him standing in the world, Finn that could best God at
ball-throw or wrestling or
pig-trailing or at the honeyed discourse of sweet Irish with
jewels and gold for bards, or at the listening of distant harpers in a black
hole at evening? Or where is the living human man who could beat Finn at the
making of generous cheese, at the spearing of ganders, at the magic of
thumb-suck, at the shaving of hog-hair, or at the unleashing of long hounds
from a golden thong in the full chase, sweet-fingered corn-yellow Finn,
Finn that could carry an armed host from Almha to Slieve Luachra in the craw
of his gut-hung knickers.
--- Flann O'Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds
And if I went inside ... I think I should only feel what one invariably
feels in revisiting any scene of childhood: How small everything has
grown, and how terrible is the deterioration in myself!
-- George Orwell, "Such, Such were the Joys"
Any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.
-- George Orwell, "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali"
[P]olitical language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging,
and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air,
the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned,
the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets; this is called pacification.
Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging
along the roads with no more than they can carry; this is called
transfer of population or rectification of frontiers.
People are imprisoned for years without trial or shot in the back
of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps; this is
called elimination of unreliable elements.
--- George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"
It is fashionable to say that in poetry only the words count and the "meaning" is irrelevant, but in fact every poem contains a prose meaning, and when the poem is any good, it is a meaning that the poet urgently wishes to express. All art is to some extent propaganda. ...
Mr Eliot speaks also of
the intolerable wrestleI do not know, but I would imagine that the struggle with meanings would have loomed smaller, and the poetry would have seemed to matter more, if he could have found his way to some creed that did not start off by forcing one to believe the incredible.
with words and meaning. The poetry does not matter.
Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins,
say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about
the sources of their own income.
-- George Orwell, "Antisemitism in Britain".
If one has once read
Shakespeare with attention, it is not easy to go a day without quoting
-- George Orwell, "Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool."
[For myself, I can't say I find this with Shakespeare, but I do find it with Orwell himself. -- ESD]
Galsworthy was a bad writer, and some inner trouble, sharpening his
sensitiveness, nearly made him into a good one; his discontent healed
itself, and he reverted to type. It is worth pausing to wonder in just what
form the thing is happening to oneself.
-- George Orwell, Review of Glimpses and Reflections, by John Galsworthy.
In the shadow of the atomic bomb it is not easy to talk confidently
about progress. However, if it can be assumed that we are not going to
be blown to pieces in about ten years' time, there are many reasons,
and George Gissing's novels are among them, for thinking that the present
age is a good deal better than the last one. If Gissing were still alive
he would be younger than Bernard Shaw, and yet already the London of
which he wrote seems almost as distant as that of Dickens. It is the
fog-bound, gas-lit London of the 'eighties, a city of drunken puritans,
where clothes, architecture and furniture had reached their rock-bottom
of ugliness, and where it was almost normal for a working-class family
of ten persons to inhabit a single room. On the whole Gissing does not
write of the worst depths of poverty, but one can hardly read his
descriptions of lower-middle-class life, so obviously truthful in their
dreariness, without feeling that we have improved perceptibly on that
black-coated, money-ruled world of only sixty years ago.
--- George Orwell, George Gissing (written in 1948; published in 1960).
Inside the strongest citadel he can construct, the human being
awaits his besieger.
-- Clara Claiborne Park, The Siege
[T]axes and membership fees are not two ways of framing
the same thing: if you choose not to pay a membership fee, the organization
will cease to provide you with its services, but if you choose not to pay
taxes, men with guns will put you in jail.
--- Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought p. 260.
Apropos of George Lakoff's fatuous suggestion that high taxes could be made more politically palatable if they were described as "membership fees".
The main point about Gattling's Limelight Play was, of course, his essential
modesty. He was one of the most ignorant and ill-educated men I have ever
met, and it was therefore always a particular pleasure to hear him say,
to a perfectly ordinary question, "I don't know" slowly, kindly, and
distinctly. He was able to indicate, by the tone of his voice, that
although he knew practically everything about practically everything,
and almost everything about this really, yet the mere fact that he knew
such a tremendous lot about it made him realise, as we couldn't possibly,
that the question was so inextricably two-sided that only a smart-Alec
would ever dream of trying to pass judgement either way.
--- Stephen Potter, Lifemanship
Terrible as were the toil and poverty, the loneliness was worse. ... It is loneliness that "breaks the heart. Loneliness consumes people."
No one lives in this room
The reader who will, throughout this essay on the
ambiguity of truth, substitute "butter" for "truth"
and "margarine" for "falsehood", will find that the
point involved is one which has no special relevance
to the nature of truth.
--- Bertrand Russell, "Pragmatism" in Philosophical Essays
I wish to propose for the reader's favorable consideration
a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and
subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable
to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing
it true. I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became
common it would completely transform our social life and our political
system; since both are at present perfect, this must weigh against it.
--- Bertrand Russell, "Introduction: On the Value of Skepticism" in Skeptical Essays
Indeed, such inadequacies as we have seemed to find in empiricism
have been discovered by strict adherence to a doctrine by which
empiricist philosophy has been inspired: that all human knowledge
is uncertain, inexact, and partial. To this doctrine we have not
found any limitation whatever.
-- Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits
A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate, because he
unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand. I
would rather be reported by my bitterest enemy amoung philosophers than by
a friend innocent of philosophy.
-- Bertrand Russell, "Socrates", A History of Western Philosophy
What is our impression of Tevye so far? An indulgent and understanding
father, something of a weakling as well. For he could not pretend to
himself that he had acted in the best interests of his daughters. Who
was to guarantee that either Zeitel or Hodel had character enough
to justify their decisions? Love dies, revolutionary ardor fades,
the bitter pressure of the world remains.
-- Maurice Samuel, The World of Sholom Aleichem
To me it is one of the most horrible of the horrible deeds ascribed to [the Bible's] heroes or its villains: this exuberant killing of an extra hundred Philistines, this exuberant mutilation of an extra hundred corpses, as though the first hundred, the condition of the bargain, were unworthy of the esteem in which David held himself or of his regard for Princess Michal.
... I, who see David as the most passionate of the God-seekers, have never ceased to recoil from it. Almost as much as the murder of Uriah, I juxtapose it with the words so often spoken of David: "For the Lord was with him".
What do these words mean? ...
David's career was brilliant in the light of the after ages; to one who
wrote shortly after his death it was a mixed thing; and whatever successes
he scored were more than offset by failures and by personal wretchedness ...
In what sense, then was God with him? In a literal sense that perhaps
even the chronicler did not always mean; for the chronicler himself is an
evolving figure, and we who interpret him are also chroniclers. God was
with David in a terrifically literal sense; for David was possessed,
haunted, inhabited, and harassed by God-consciousness. His earthly
passions were demonic; equally demonic, if one may so put it, was his anguish
over them, and his longing to find himself in God. The heart that could
riot in blood-lust and well with self-righteousness, could tremble like
a child's before the denunciation of the prophet Nathan, accepting
punishment without protest; and it could beat to strains of unearthly
music, to give it forth again for our everlasting consolation.
-- Maurice Samuel, Certain People of the Book.
[The incident of David killing 200 Philistines and circumcising their corpses is in I Samuel 18:20-27.]
``All great men are bad,'' says Lord Acton flatly. We certainly do not
know of anyone who has achieved and maintained wordly greatness without
dishonesty, without letting down friends, withing hitting rivals below
the belt; and, above all, without instinctively weighing most persons,
as and when met, for usefulness in the cause. No matter how noble
the cause, this automatic reduction of human beings to functional
units is of the essence of badness. No matter, too, how well
subordinated the love of power, the need of it for
effective worldly action is a corrupting reality which will not
disappear from the human scene until the Messianic era.
-- Maurice Samuel, Certain People of the Book.
He who withdraws completely from the worldly struggle without actually leaving
this world does not diminish the volume of the struggle; he only lets his share
be taken over.
-- Maurice Samuel, Prince of the Ghetto
[I]f a "renegade" Jew is homesick for the Passover as the "renegade" Christian for Christmas, and the two are in these respects equally miserable, there is a particular torment reserved for the Jew at Passover time. He too is surrounded by reminders, but they are of a terrible and ambiguous character. The Passover coincides with the time of the Christian Easter; and in certain lands Easter is the season for whipping up vengeful emotions round the death of Christ. Then the Jew must feel rising all about him that ancient, recurrent annual flood-tide of fury against his people. Let us assume that he has not accepted the Christian faith --- he has lost only his Judaism, not his self-respect. Still he must feel he has betrayed someone. For the sake of "intellectual honesty" he is not there, in the beleaguered citadel. For the sake of intellectual honesty he is on the outside, living with safety (at least transient) among the armies of the besiegers.
And then he remembers incidents out of the past. There mingle in him mind
poignant recollections of his own childhood seders and the seders of neighbors;
the solemnity and the fun, the divinity and the earthliness; parents, brothers,
sisters. His mind casts back to the antiquity of the ritual. He thinks of
seders in other climes, celebrants in other costumes; and with the seders
he remembers the lowering, threatening world outside.
-- Maurice Samuel, Prince of the Ghetto
Sometimes you will hear a worshipper gabble off the words
He begins with a shout and trains off into a subdued drumfire of amazingly
precise syllabification, right to the end of the psalm, coming up now and
again with an occasional outburst of intelligibility, or pausing here and
there for a roulade. You would swear that the man's mind is not on the
words --- and it is not. Then you would add that his prayer is
perfunctory, and you would more often than not be quite wrong. His soul is
in the posture of prayer; he may be in the mood of supplication, of
adoration, or of humility; he is using the occasion of the common gesture
for a private experience; the familiar syllabic exercise is a kind of
hypnotic induction. Davenning is therefore the periodic contact with the
religious emotion rather than the formal act of prayer.
--- Maurice Samuel, Prince of the Ghetto
A week ago, when I had finished
Writing the chapter you've just read
And, with avidity undiminished
Was charting out the course ahead,
An editor --- at a plush party
(Well-wined, -provisioned, speechy, hearty)
Hosted by (long live!) Thomas Cook
Where my Tibetan travel book
Was honored --- seized my arm: "Dear fellow,
What's your next work?" "A novel ..." "Great!
We hope that you, dear Mr. Seth ---"
"... In verse," I added. He turned yellow.
"How marvellously quaint," he said,
And subsequently cut me dead.
--- Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate, 5.1.
MORELL: Eugene, my boy: you are making a fool of yourself --- a very great fool of yourself. There's a piece of wholesome plain speaking for you.
MARCHBANKS. Oh, do you think I don't know all that? Do you think that the things people make fools of themselves about are any less real and true than the things they behave sensibly about? [Morell's gaze wavers for the first time. He instinctively averts his face and stands listening, startled and thoughtful.] They are more true: they are the only things that are true. You are very calm and sensible and moderate with me because you can see that I am a fool about your wife; just as no doubt that old man who was here just now is very wise over your socialism, because he sees that YOU are a fool about it. [Morell's perplexity deepens markedly. Eugene follows up his advantage, plying him fiercely with questions.] Does that prove you wrong? Does your complacent superiority to me prove that I am wrong?
-- George Bernard Shaw, Candida.
CANDIDA. Wouldn't you like to present me with a new [scrubbing brush] with an ivory back inlaid with mother-of-pearl?
MARCHBANKS [softly and musically but sadly and longingly] No, not a scrubbing brush but a boat: a tiny shallop to sail away in, far away from the world, where the marble floors are washed by the rain and dried by the sun; where the south wind dusts the beautiful green and purple carpets. Or a chariot! to carry us up into the sky, where the lamps are stars and don't need to be filled with parafin oil every day.
MORELL [harshly] And where there is nothing to do but to be idle, selfish, and useless.
CANDIDA [jarred] Oh James! How could you spoil it all?
MARCHBANKS [firing up] Yes, to be idle, selfish, and useless: that is, to be beautiful, free and happy; hasnt every man desired that with all his soul for the woman he loves?
-- George Bernard Shaw, Candida.
[In Hard Times, Dickens] begins at last to exercise quite recklessly his power of presenting a character to you in the most fantastic and outrageous terms, putting into its mouth from one end of the book to the other hardly one word that could conceivably be uttered by any sane human being, and yet leaving you with an unmistakeable and exactly truthful portrait of a character that you will recognize at once as not only real but typical.
-- George Bernard Shaw, "Introduction to Hard Times".
Remember in our favor the bond with our ancestors as You have said, "And I shall remember my bond with Jacob, and also my bond with Isaac and I shall also remember my bond with Abraham, and I will remember the land."
[The quotations are from Leviticus 26:42, 26:45, 26:44; Deuteronomy 30:3, 30:4; Isaiah 44:22, 43:25, 1:18; Ezekiel 36:25; Deuteronomy 4:31, 30:6, 4:29; and Isaiah 56.7.]
Gratitude isn't an emotion. But the expectation of gratitude is
a very lively one.
-- C.P. Snow, The Masters chap. 25.
Why won't they see what matters? I want a man who knows something about
himself. And is appalled. And has to forgive himself to get along.
-- C.P. Snow, The Masters
There was, had he looked, a sadder sight beside him, the no longer quite human faces of the afflicted girls [the accusers in the Salem witch trials]. Seven months of carefully cultivated hysteria had not improved these flowers of Puritan maidenhood. They had coarsened and toughened and become nearly as insensible to normal feeling as so many automata. People who shrank from the cruelty of their jests at the dying misjudged them, for they were no more capable of conscious cruelty than of any other really human feeling. The very violence of their apparent emotion disguised a sick inner apathy. Given over so long to a world of dark fantasy, they were no longer capable of response to the electric shock of reality.
... They were famous; they were powerful; no one in Massachussetts had such power over life and death as they. But they were also alone. They created a little lifeless vacuum about them wherever they moved. ...
They did not mind, for they lived in a dream, their senses so spellbound that they did not know how bad a dream it was, how stale with repetition, without the interpolation of a fresh idea since they had fallen into it. They went on and on in the old bad dream, responding to suggestion as insensately as a machine responds to the touch of a hand.
--- Marion Starkey, The Devil In Massachusetts.
Where, mighty with deepening sides, clad about with the seas as with wings,
And impelled of invisible tides, and fulfilled of unspeakable things,
White-eyed and poisonous-finned, shark-toothed and serpentine-curled,
Rolls, under the whitening wind of the future, the wave of the world.
The depths stand naked in sunder behind it, the storms flee away;
In the hollow before it the thunder is taken and snared as a prey;
In its sides is the north-wind bound; and its salt is of all men's tears;
With light of ruin, and sound of changes, and pulse of years:
With travail of day after day, and with trouble of hour upon hour;
And bitter as blood is the spray; and the crests are as fangs that devour:
And its vapour and storm of its steam as the sighing of spirits to be;
And its noise as the noise in a dream; and its depth as the roots of the sea:
And the height of its heads as the height of the utmost stars of the air:
And the ends of the earth at the might thereof tremble, and time is made bare.
Will ye bridle the deep sea with reins, will ye chasten the high sea with rods ?
Will ye take her to chain her with chains, who is older than all ye Gods ?
All ye as a wind shall go by, as a fire shall ye pass and be past;
Ye are Gods, and behold, ye shall die, and the waves be upon you at last
In the darkness of time, in the deeps of the years, in the changes of things,
Ye shall sleep as a slain man sleeps, and the world shall forget you for kings.
Though the feet of thine high priests tread where thy lords and our forefathers trod,
Though these that were Gods are dead, and thou being dead art a God,
Though before thee the throned Cytherean be fallen, and hidden her head,
Yet thy kingdom shall pass, Galilean, thy dead shall go down to thee dead.
-- Algernon Swinburne, from "Hymn to Proserpine"
When one state is completely dependent on another, it is the weaker that can
call the tune; it can threaten to collapse unless supported, and its protector
has no answering threat to return.
--- A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe pp. 29-30 (a propos of the Papal States and France under Louis Napoleon).
Twenty years ago there was still living at Blérancourt a great-niece of St. Just, who would show to the visitor a few relics of her ``poor Uncle Anthony.'' That was all he was to her. But can history, after all, say anything truer about him? There are a few men who seem to be masters of their destiny, and to out-top their times. They must be described as the public knew them. Their portraits must be painted full-length, in uniform and orders, sword and cocked hat, framed in a foot of gilt, and hung on the line in the big room of history. They have ceased to belong to themselves: they belong to the nation. They have ceased even to be themselves: they have become something else that they thought better. It would be improper for history to represent them in undress, or off their guard. The public would not recognize them: they would hardly know themselves.
But it is not to those pictures that we go even for the best examples of an artist: he has not been able, or has not been allowed, to get behind the conventional figure of his sitter. If we want art, if we want life, if we want the portrayal of character, we are more likely to find it in the ``portrait of an unknown gentleman'' that the artist painted for the love of his subject, not for cash; or in the likenesses of those who were the victims rather than the masters of their destiny. They may have ruined their causes, they may have sacrificed their lives, but they did not lose themselves. We need show them no conventional deference. We can treat them on the only footing that is proper between man and man --- one of friendly understanding and fellow feeling. And that is the fittest medium of historical portraiture.
Poor Uncle Anthony! ``I have done badly,'' he had written; ``but I shall be able to do better.'' He had made that the rule of his life. He had sent away his mistress, and forsworn women. He had atoned for the robbery of his home by public incorruptibility. The writer of indecent verse had become the preacher of a virtuous republic. Only, through it all he had kept, as a symbol of his unalterable pride, the smart coat and the high collar. They had been through strange experiences --- battles and executions, committees and speeches, cruel attacks and heroic defenses, flattery and hatred, success suddenly changed into failure. To leap to fame at twenty-three, and die in infamy at twenty-seven --- that was his career. There was no one with more to give to his country --- youth, courage, ability, and enthusiasm: yet there was not one of its instruments that the blind force of the Revolution more contemptuously used, and broke, and flung aside.
--- J.M. Thompson, Leaders of the French Revolution, 1948.
[I do not at all endorse this as a view of Antoine St. Just, who, from everything I have ever seen, including most of this essay, was a horrible, murderous, totalitarian avant la lettre, whose death on the guillotine was much less to be regretted than the thousands of innocent victims for whose deaths he was in part responsible. I cannot imagine how J.M. Thompson could view him with "fellow feeling". But, ignoring the particular subject, the passage seems to me very moving. Certainly, it stuck in my mind quite clearly over a period of three decades, between the time that I lost the book moving to graduate school and the time in 2011 when I recalled it at the library to look up this passage.
As regards the sardonic description of the "great man" in the first paragraph, it is probably relevant that Thompson's previous book was a biography of Napoleon. --- ESD]
At present, our houses are cluttered and defiled with it [furniture],
and a good housewife would sweep the greater part into the dust
hole and not leave her morning's work undone. Morning work!
By the blushes of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should
be man's morning work in this world?
I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified
to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the
furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and I threw them
out the window in disgust.
-- H.D. Thoreau, Walden
Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be
thrown off the rails by every nutshell and mosquito's wing
that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or
break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company
come, and let company go, let the bells ring and the
children cry, -- determined to make a day of it. Why
should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us
not be upset and overwhelmed by that terrible rapid
and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian
shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe,
for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed
nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another
way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine
whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its
pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will
consider what kind of music they are like. Let us
settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward
through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice,
and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion
that covers the globe, through Paris and London, through
New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state,
through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come
to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call
reality and say, This is, and no mistake; and then
begin, having a point d'appui below freshet
and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall
or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge,
not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages
might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances
had gathered from time to time.
-- H.D. Thoreau, Walden
"Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?" he said. "And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir's country, the day I saw an oliphaunt?"
"No, I am afraid not, Sam," said Frodo. "At least, I know that such things
happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water,
no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image
of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there
is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even
with my waking eyes, and all else fades."
-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
During the night, A, though sleeping with B, dreams of C. C stands at the furthest extremity or (if the image is considered two-dimensionally) the apogee of a curved driveway, perhaps a dream-refraction of the driveway of the house that had once been their shared home. Her figure, though small in the perspective, is vivid, clad in a tomato-red summer dress; he head is thrown back, her hands are on her hips, and her legs have taken a wide, confident stance. She is flaunting herself, perhaps laughing; his impression is of intense, female vitality. He awakes troubled. The sleep of B beside him is not disturbed; she rests in the certainty that A loves her. Indeed, he has left C for her, to prove it.
PROBLEM: Which has he more profoundly betrayed, B or C?
-- John Updike, "Problems", New Yorker, November 3, 1975.
Liute und lant dar inn ich von kinde bin erzogen
She wailed a wail that meant the abandonment of the universe, the universe we build for ourselves and one another with such hard work for all our lives together, constructing and reconstructing the world of things as they are. It was a howl from a place where nothing is true, where nothing is the way things are. I see now what it was, what I felt then, though then I could only feel it: the horror of a world without supports -- for me, for her, or for any of us. The horror of the unbuilding of everything.
As the years went by and age overtook her [Katharine White], there was
something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on
this awesome occasion --- the small, hunched-over figure, her studied
absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring,
oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was
near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart in the dying October,
calmly plotting the resurrection.
-- E.B. White, Introduction to Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katharine White.
Politics is all that stands between power and cruelty.
Misfortunes one can endure --- they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one's own faults --- ah! --- there is the sting of life.
We never mention Aunt Clara.
They say that she's sunken, they say that she fell
From the narrow and virtuous path,
But her formal French gardens are sunken as well
And so is her pink marble bath.
--- Ruth and Eugene Willis "We Never Mention Aunt Clara" See here for the authorship.
As a general rule, in my dealings with the delicately-nurtured, I am the soul of knightly chivalry --- suave, genial, and polished. But I can on occasion say the bitter, cutting thing, and I said it now.
"Oh," I said.
-- P.G. Wodehouse, "Jeeves and the Kid Clementina", Very Good, Jeeves!
[Note: Somewhere P.G. Wodehouse repeats this joke, with a similar build up, but with the punchline " `Oh,' I said and I meant it to sting." But I haven't been able to find this again. -- ESD]
"It is a recognized fact, sir, that there is nothing that so satisfactorily unites individuals who have been so unfortunate as to quarrel amongst themselves as a strong mutual dislike for some definite person. ... Remembering this, it occurred to me that were you, sir, to be established as the person responsible for the ladies and gentlemen being forced to spend the night in the garden, everybody would take so strong a dislike to you that in this common sympathy they would sooner or later come together."
I would have spoken, but he continued.
"And such proved to be the case. All, as you see, sir, is now well. After
your departure on the bicycle, the various estranged parties agreed so heartily
in their abuse of you that the ice, if I may use the expression, was broken,
and it was not long before Mr Glossop was walking beneath the trees with Miss
Angela, telling her anecdotes of your career at the university in exchange for
hers regarding your childhood, while Mr Fink-Nottle, leaning against the
sun-dial, held Miss Bassett enthralled with stories of your school-days."
-- P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves.
We had fed the heart on fantasies,
HOW can I, that girl standing there,
Those masterful images because complete
Even if what one defends be true, an attitude of defense, a continual
apology, whatever the cause, makes the mind barren because it kills
intellectual innocence; that delight in what is unforeseen, and in the
mere spectacle of the world, the mere drifting hither and thither that
must come before all true thought and emotion.
--- W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge and the Ireland of his Time.
Zuangzi and Huizi were strolling one day on the bridge over the River Hao. Zhaungzi observed, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"
"You are not a fish," said Huizi, "How do you know what fish enjoy?"
"You are not I," replied Zhuangzi, "so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"