Some favorite quotes and passages

A

All over the world, people are finding that in their dramatically transformed circumstances, the old forms of faith no longer work for them: they cannot provide the enlightenment and consolation that human beings seem to need. As a result, men and women are trying to find new ways of being religious; like the reformers and prophets of the Axial Age, they are attempting to build upon the insights of the past in a way that will take human beings forward into the new world they have created for themselves. One of these modern experiments — however paradoxical it may superficially seem to say so — is fundamentalism.

— Karen Armstrong (from The Battle for God)

Muhammad did not believe that he was creating a new religion, but was bringing the primordial religion of humanity to his Arabian tribe, which had never been sent a prophet before and had no scripture in their own language.

— Karen Armstrong (from The Battle for God)

In The Four Journeys of the Soul, [Mulla Sadra] described the mystical journey of a charismatic political leader. First, he must journey from man to God. Next he travels in the divine sphere, contemplating each of God’s attributes until he arrives at an intuitive sense of their indissoluble unity. Gazing thus on the face of God, he is transformed and has a new perception of what monotheism really means and an insight that is not unlike that enjoyed by the Imams. In his third journey, the leader travels back to humankind, and finds that he now sees the world quite differently. His fourth and final quest is to preach God’s word in the world and to find new ways to institute the divine law and reorder society in conformity with God’s will.

— Karen Armstrong (from The Battle for God)

[Calvin] believed that it was possible to see God in his creation, and commended the study of astronomy, geography, and biology. Calvinists of the early modern period would often be good scientists. Calvin saw no contradiction between science and scripture. The Bible, he believed, was not imparting literal information about geography or comsology, but was trying to express ineffable truth in terms that limited human beings could understand. Biblical language was balbative (“baby talk”), a deliberate simplification of a truth that was too complex to be articulated in any other way.

— Karen Armstrong (from The Battle for God)

But most of the Axial philosophers had no interest whatever in doctrine or metaphysics. A person’s theological beliefs were a matter of total indifference to somebody like the Buddha. Some sages steadfastly refused even to discuss theology, claiming that it was distracting and damaging. Others argued that it was immature, unrealistic, and perverse to look for the kind of absolute certainty that many people expect religion to provide.

— Karen Armstrong (from The Great Transformation)

What mattered was not what you believed but how you behaved. Religion was about doing things that changed you at a profound level. … Today we often assume that before undertaking a religious lifestyle, we must prove to our own satisfaction that “God” or the “Absolute” exists. This is good scientific practice: first you establish a principle; only then can you apply it. But the Axial sages would say that this was to put the cart before the horse. First you must commit yourself to the ethical life; then disciplined and habitual benevolence, not metaphysical conviction, would give you intimations of the transcendence you sought.

— Karen Armstrong (from The Great Transformation)

The pagan vision was holistic. The gods were not shut off from the human race in a separate, ontological sphere: divinity was not essentially different from humanity. There was thus no need for a special revelation of the gods or for a divine law to descend to earth from on high. The gods and human beings shared the same predicament, the only difference being that the gods were more powerful and were immortal.

— Karen Armstrong (from The History of God)

Throughout the Bible, Abraham is called a man of “faith.” Today we tend to define faith as an intellectual assent to a creed, but, as we have seen, the biblical writers did not view faith in God as an abstract or metaphysical belief. When they praise the “faith” of Abraham, they are not commending his orthodoxy (the acceptance of a correct theological opinion about God) but his trust, in rather the same way as when we say that we have faith in a person or an ideal. In the Bible, Abraham is a man of faith because he trusts that God would make good his promises, even though they seem absurd.

— Karen Armstrong (from The History of God)

Ehyeh asher ehyeh is a Hebrew idiom to express a deliberate vagueness. When the Bible uses a phrase like “they went where they went,” it means: “I haven’t the faintest idea where they went.” So when Moses asks who he is, God replies in effect: “Never you mind who I am!” or “Mind your own business!”

— Karen Armstrong (from The History of God)

Whether I am chiseling away at a piece of wood, or cutting into linoleum, or engraving metal, the process of removing some material to reveal the image seems gratifying to me. I like the look of the cut mark, knowing that it cannot be erased, but must exist as part of the overall composition. All mistakes are taken in as part of the whole. Remarkably enough, the mistakes tend to look fine in context. Perhaps this is also true in life.

— Donna Atwood (from a catalog of her artwork)

B

There seems to be one act too many in the piece, and, if I wanted to be personal, I should say that it is the third.

— Robert Benchley (from a review of the play Mixed Marriage in Life magazine, 6 January 1921)

No one without a sense of humor should ever write seriously.

— Robert Benchley (from a review of Eugene O’Neill’s Dynamo in Life magazine, 8 March 1929)

With a sense of humor Mr. O’Neill could have made Strange Interlude a two-and- a-half hour play and a great one.

— Robert Benchley (from a review of Eugene O’Neill’s Dynamo in Life magazine, 8 March 1929)

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— Wendell Berry

He alone sees truly who sees the Lord the same in every creature.

Bhagavad Gita, trans. Eknath Easwaran

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.

— William Jennings Bryan (from the “Cross of Gold” speech, July 9, 1896)

Those who are opposed to this proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with Jefferson rather than with them, and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing business.

— William Jennings Bryan (from the “Cross of Gold” speech, July 9, 1896)

C

All fleshly passion seemed to flicker out inevitably, however splendid the brief blaze. For you loved and lost; or else you loved and won: there was quick ending either way.

— James Branch Cabell (from The Cream of the Jest)

“But perhaps it is not wise to be guided entirely by appearances. For I find now that she has a strong will in her white bosom, and a tireless tongue in her glittering head, and I do not equally admire all four of these possessions.”

— James Branch Cabell (from Figures of Earth)

“It is always possible, at a paid price, to obtain whatever one desires. … But I must tell you the price also, and it is that with the achieving of each desire you will perceive its worth.”

— James Branch Cabell (from Figures of Earth)

Mundus decipit, Count,” they told him, “is the old pious motto of Poictesme: it signifies that the affairs of this world are a vain fleeting show, and that terrestrial appearances are nowhere of any particular importance.”

“Then your motto is green inexperience,” said Manuel, “and for me to bear it would be black ingratitude.”

So the writing had been changed in accordance with his instructions, and it now read Mundus vult decipi.

— James Branch Cabell (from Figures of Earth)

“It seems to me, as I become older, and see more of men and of men’s ways, that most people have no especial desire but only preferences.”

— James Branch Cabell (from Figures of Earth)

She laughed uneasily. “I so often wonder about you, Manuel, as to whether inside the big, high-colored, squinting, solemn husk is living a very wise person or a very unmitigated fool.”

“Then there is something else which we have in common, for I, too, often wonder about that.”

— James Branch Cabell (from Figures of Earth)

“Therefore let us bury our dead, and having placed the body in the tomb, let us honestly inscribe above this fragile, flower-like perished emotion, ‘Here lieth lust, not love.’”

— James Branch Cabell (from Figures of Earth)

“I think it is no credit for a private man to be a great rogue; but the leader of a people must know how to deceive all peoples.”

— James Branch Cabell (from The Silver Stallion)

“It is love, not carelessness, which bids us forget our dead, so that we may love them the more whole-heartedly. Unwelcome memories must be recolored and reshaped, the faults and blunders and the vexing ways which are common to all men must be put out of mind, and strange excellencies must be added, until the compound in nothing resembles the man that is dead. Such is love’s way, Coth, to keep love immortal.”

— James Branch Cabell (from The Silver Stallion)

“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”

— James Branch Cabell (from The Silver Stallion)

“I do not know why, but any imaginable bit of verse conveying a statement manifestly untrue can be made edifying and sublime through ending it with the word stars.

— James Branch Cabell (from Something About Eve)

Now he sang piercingly of the great platitude that death conquers and ruins everything: and to that sentiment nobody can ever turn a deaf ear, because it is the only sentiment with a universal personal application.

— James Branch Cabell (from Something About Eve)

If it’s physical, it’s therapy.

— Jon Carroll

A kitchen fire is just the right height to look at, without going to sleep, and then it is a useful fire and not just luxury; and it is so made that it drops its coals and tells you, with every fall, that life burns away, and it has the stove top for a kettle to remind you that, at the worst, there is always tea, and that the best comforts are at everyone’s hand.

— Joyce Cary (from Herself Surprised)

So I noticed what a lot of mad people there were and what a lot of nonsense talked, quite as bad as Gulley’s and no one troubling their heads about it. Go you about with a man like Gulley and you will see what nonsense people listen to, as calmly as you please, and swallow every word, and then bring out some nonsense of their own.

— Joyce Cary (from Herself Surprised)

I call it a treat for queens to sink your hands in new wheaten flour.

— Joyce Cary (from Herself Surprised)

“Well,” I thought, “if you tied a knot of all the roads and railways and pipes and wires in the world it would come to a kitchen in the middle of it.” And so close and neat, there wouldn’t be room in it for a single piece of useless nonsense or vain furniture. For the great beauty of my jewels was that every one of them was needed and of my treasure chests that all this silver and gold was new-minted flour and fresh-baked cakes and my shining armour was to keep dinners warm and my regiments were to cut up chickens and ducks and to stick their bayonets in chops and steaks for the glory only of conquering hungry stomachs and bad tempers. It’s after a good dinner, I thought, that the lion and the lamb lie down together and let out their top buttons (as poor Mattey would do) and put their feet on the hob.

— Joyce Cary (from Herself Surprised)

It was made out so, or nearly so, by the evidence, but it is very hard to get truth into evidence, as I think it is hard enough to get it in life, about human people, or even yourself.

— Joyce Cary (from Herself Surprised)

Ten years ago I would have told you that my childhood was peaceful and happy. At that time, a very unhappy time in my life, I often took refuge in the idea of my happy childhood. But an old man’s memories, like his bones, grow sharp with age and show their true shapes. The peace of the nursery, like all my peace, dissolves like the illusions of my flesh.

— Joyce Cary (from To Be a Pilgrim)

And I don’t like photographs. They are dangerous. They serve only to hide the real people from me. When I look at Lucy’s picture, faded and pale, she disappears behind it. But if, when I lie in the dark, I only think the sound of her voice, she stands before me, warm, breathing; and always in some unexpected appearance, so that often I cry out in surprise, saying, “I had forgotten.”

— Joyce Cary (from To Be a Pilgrim)

Only the old know enough to console the old; and then all their friends are dead.

— Joyce Cary (from To Be a Pilgrim)

“You can’t blame a man for his charm. It wouldn’t be fair. And if we are his victims, it is our own fault. It is because we enjoyed being fascinated — what is more delightful than to make oneself nobody, nothing, as light as a needle, and submit to some powerful magnet?”

— Joyce Cary (from To Be a Pilgrim)

They were faithful to friendship, to kindness, to beauty; never to faith. They could not make the final sacrifice. They took a holiday at the wrong time; or could not bother to keep up with the new arts; or, like Mrs. Tirrit, did not face, in time, the doctor who would say, “You must have an operation.” They would rather die in peace than live in pain.

— Joyce Cary (from To Be a Pilgrim)

Sunlight falls upon a lime as upon no other tree. It pierces the oak as with red-hot arrows; it glances aside from the elm as from a cliff; it shrinks from the yew as from a piece of darkness; it tangles itself in the willow and seems to lie there half-asleep; among the crooked apple branches it hangs like fruit. But over a lime it falls like a water made of light, the topaz color of the moor streams, and full like them of reflected rays, green and sparkling.

— Joyce Cary (from To Be a Pilgrim)

When I’ve talked a lot, I know I’ve told a lot of lies, and what makes it worse, not even meaning to. When you’re talking a lot you haven’t time to get the words right. Talk is lies. The only satisfactory form of communication is a good picture.

— Joyce Cary (from The Horse’s Mouth)

“You can’t get justice in this world. It doesn’t grow in these parts.”

— Joyce Cary (from The Horse’s Mouth)

We all know what the world is. Free for all. And the winner is the chap who gets knocked out first and comes to while the others are still asleep.

— Joyce Cary (from The Horse’s Mouth)

“Nothing is a masterpiece — a real masterpiece — till it’s about two hundred years old. A picture is like a tree or a church, you’ve got to let it grow into a masterpiece. Same with a poem or a new religion. They begin as a lot of funny words. Nobody knows whether they’re all nonsense or a gift from heaven. And the only people who think anything of ‘em are a lot of cranks or crackpots, or poor devils who don’t know enough to know anything. Look at Christianity. Just a lot of floating seeds to start with, all sorts of seeds. It was a long time before one of them grew into a tree big enough to kill the rest and keep the rain off. And it’s only when the tree has been cut into planks and built into a house and the house has got pretty old and about fifty generations of ordinary lumpheads who don’t know a work of art from a public convenience, have been knocking nails in the kitchen beams to hang hams on, and screwing hooks in the walls for whips and guns and photographs and calendars and measuring the children on the window frames and chopping out a new cupboard under the stairs to keep the cheese and murdering their wives in the back room and burying them under the cellar flags, that it begins even to feel like a real religion. And it’s when the whole place is full of dry rot and ghosts and old bones and the shelves are breaking down with old wormy books that no one could read if they tried, and the attic floors are bulging through the servants’ ceilings with old trunks and top-boots and gasoliers and dressmaker’s dummies and ball frocks and dolls’-houses and pony saddles and blunderbusses and parrot cages and uniforms and love letters and jugs without handles and bridal pots decorated with forget-me-nots and a piece out at the bottom, that it grows into a real old faith, a masterpiece which people can really get something out of, each for himself. And then, of course, everybody keeps on saying that it ought to be pulled down at once, because it’s an insanitary nuisance.”

— Joyce Cary (from The Horse’s Mouth)

“A picture isn’t like an illustration in a magazine. You can’t get to know it by looking at it. First, you’ve got to get used to it — that takes about five years. Then you’ve got to know it, that takes ten years, then you learn how to enjoy it and that takes you the rest of your life. Unless you find out after ten years that it’s really no good and you’ve been wasting your time over it.”

— Joyce Cary (from The Horse’s Mouth)

“Please don’t talk,” said the nun. “That’s all right, mother,” I said, “they can’t hear me because of the noise of the traffic and because they aren’t listening. And it wouldn’t make any difference if they did. They’re too young to learn, and if they weren’t they wouldn’t want to.” “It’s dangerous for you to talk, you’re very seriously ill.” “Not so seriously as you’re well. How don’t you enjoy life, mother. I should laugh all round my neck at this minute if my shirt wasn’t a bit on the tight side.” “It would be better for you to pray.” “Same thing, mother.”

— Joyce Cary (from The Horse’s Mouth)

Children want to learn, they are greedy to know, they triumph over each other in knowledge. If you do not teach them they will learn from each other, and probably learn wrong.

— Joyce Cary (from Art and Reality)

The change of fashion, of style in literature is rarely so frequent and complete as that of the plastic arts. But this, I suspect, is due simply to art schools which teach a new method to thousands as soon as it becomes accepted. The consequence is that hordes of art students, taught it as a mere technique, practise it as a mere method, vulgarise it, and within a few years present their contemporary art-public with work already purely mechanical and imitative. This produces the inevitable reaction; the young revolt more quickly and seek more urgently a true expressive form for their own new intuition.

— Joyce Cary (from Art and Reality)

In short, there are as many personal meanings in a work of art as there are persons to appreciate, and each can find there his own truth.

— Joyce Cary (from Art and Reality)

Nothing is so illuminating as a great writer’s mistakes, and all of them make mistakes, for all of them are struggling to express an intuition of life which transcends any possible symbolic form.

— Joyce Cary (from Art and Reality)

He had taught in music schools in St. Louis and in Kansas City, where the shallowness and complacency of the young misses had maddened him. He had encountered bad manners and bad faith, had been the victim of sharpers of all kinds, was dogged by bad luck. He had played in orchestras that were never paid and wandering opera troupes which disbanded penniless. And there was always the old enemy, more relentless than the others. It was long since he had wished anything or desired anything beyond the necessities of the body. Now that he was tempted to hope for another, he felt alarmed and shook his head.

— Willa Cather (from The Song of the Lark)

He had lived for so long among people whose sole ambition was to get something for nothing that he had learned not to look for seriousness in anyone.

— Willa Cather (from The Song of the Lark)

“Every artist makes himself born. It is very much harder than the other time, and longer. Your mother did not bring anything into the world to play piano. That you must bring into the world yourself.”

— Willa Cather (from The Song of the Lark)

The rich, noisy city, fat with food and drink, is a spent thing; its chief concern is its digestion and its little game of hide-and-seek with the undertaker. Money and office and success are the consolations of impotence. Fortune turns kind to such solid people and lets them suck their bone in peace. She flicks her whip upon flesh that is more alive, upon that stream of hungry boys and girls who tramp the streets of every city, recognizable by their pride and discontent, who are the Future, and who possess the treasure of creative power.

— Willa Cather (from The Song of the Lark)

When the ear hears, observe the mind. Does it get caught up and make a story out of the sound? Is it disturbed? You can know this, stay with it, be aware. At times you may want to escape from the sounds, but that is not the way out. You must escape through awareness.

— Ajahn Chah (from A Still Forest Pool)

I think what we have here is a working definition of an asshole — a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms.

— Ta-Nehisi Coates (from The Atlantic, March 2013)

D

Our village was so small that you came on it at once; it lacked the dignity of outskirts.

— Robertson Davies (from Fifth Business)

‘If you don’t hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you’ll get,’ he said one day. But I was not sure I wanted to issue orders to life: I rather liked the Greek notion of allowing Chance to take a formative hand in my affairs.

— Robertson Davies (from Fifth Business)

But every man has a devil, and a man of unusual quality, like yourself, Ramsay, has an unusual devil.

— Robertson Davies (from Fifth Business)

Oh, this Christianity! Even when people swear they don’t believe in it, the fifteen hundred years of Christianity that has made our world is in their bones, and they want to show they can be Christians without Christ. Those are the worst; they have the cruelty of doctrine without the poetic grace of myth.

— Robertson Davies (from Fifth Business)

“An opera has to have a foundation; something big, like unhappy love, or vengeance, or some point of honour. Because people like that, you know. There they sit, all those stockbrokers and rich surgeons and insurance men, and they look so solemn and quiet as if nothing would rouse them. But underneath they are raging with unhappy love, or vengeance, or some point of honour or ambition — all connected with their professional lives. They go to La Bohéme or La Traviata and they remember some early affair that might have been squalid if you weren’t living it yourself; or they see Rigoletto and think how the chairman humiliated them at the last board meeting; or they see Macbeth and think how they would like to murder the chairman and get his job. Only they don’t think it; very deep down they feel it, and boil it, and suffer it in the primitive underworld of their souls. You wouldn’t get them to admit anything, not if you begged.”

— Robertson Davies (from The Lyre of Orpheus)

It is a firm critical principle that nobody living is quite as good as somebody dead.

— Robertson Davies (from The Lyre of Orpheus)

So I read a lot of history, as my schoolwork with Ramsay had given me a turn in that direction, and quite a few great classical works which have formed the minds of men for generations, and of which I retain nothing but a vague sense of how long they were and how clever people must be who liked them.

— Robertson Davies (from The Manticore)

It isn’t everybody who is triumphantly the hero of his own romance, and when we meet one he is likely to be a fascinating monster, like my dear Eisengrim. But just because you are not a roaring egotist, you needn’t fall for the fashionable modern twaddle of the anti-hero and the mini-soul. That is what we might call the Shadow of democracy; it makes it so laudable, so cosy and right and easy to be a spiritual runt and lean on all the other runts for support and applause in a splendid apotheosis of runtdom. Thinking runts, of course — oh, yes, thinking away as hard as a runt can without getting into danger. But there are heroes, still. The modern hero is the man who conquers in the inner struggle. How do you know you aren’t that kind of hero?

— Robertson Davies (from The Manticore)

What had been horrible coming in, because it was done head downward, was more difficult than anything I have ever attempted until I began the outward journey; but now I had to wriggle upward at an angle that seemed never less than forty-five degrees. It was like climbing a chimney, a matter of knees and elbows, and frequent cracks on the skull. I know I kicked Liesl in the face more than once, but she made no sound except for the grunting and panting without which no progress was possible. I had worn myself out going in; going out I had to find strength from new and unguessed-at sources. I did not think; I endured, and endurance took on a new character, not of passive suffering but of anguished, fearful striving.

— Robertson Davies (from The Manticore)

Because he knew what he was talking about, when most of the other debaters did not, and because he spoke what he believed to be the truth in plain and uncompromising language, he gained a modest reputation as a wit, which amazed him greatly.

— Robertson Davies (from What’s Bred in the Bone)

“Well — it is an aspect of my work I do not talk about very much. But if you work on a painting with all your skill, and sympathy, and love, even if you have to re-invent much of it — as would be the case here — something of what directed the first painter may come to your aid.

It was at this point that Francis, who had been listening attentively, felt as though he had been given a sharp, quickening tap on the brow with a tiny hammer.”

— Robertson Davies (from What’s Bred in the Bone)

“You see, in the great days of what are now so reverently called the Old Masters, art was a trade as well. The great men kept ateliers which were in effect shops, where you could go and buy anything that pleased you. It was the Romanticism of the nineteenth century that raised the painter quite above trade and made him scorn the shop — he became a child of the Muses. A neglected child, very often, for the Muses are not maternal in the commonplace sense. And as the painter was raised above trade, he often felt himself raised above craftsmanship, like those poor wretches who painted the frescoes we were looking at earlier today. They were full up and slopping over with Art, but they hadn’t troubled to master Craft. Result: they couldn’t carry out their ideas to their own satisfaction, and their work has dwindled into some dirty walls. Sad, in a way.”

— Robertson Davies (from What’s Bred in the Bone)

“There is a fine world unknown to us, and religion is an attempt to explain it. But, unhappily, to reach everybody religion has to be an organization, and a trade for a lot of its priests, and worst of all it has to be reduced to what the largest mass of people will accept and can be expected to understand.”

— Robertson Davies (from What’s Bred in the Bone)

We wanted to meet him, for though we were neither of us naive people we had not wholly lost our belief that it is delightful to meet artists who have given us pleasure.

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

There is in every artist something black, something savouring of the crook, which he may not even understand himself, and which he certainly keeps well out of the eye of his public.

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

“Education is a great shield against experience. It offers so much, ready-made and all from the best shops, that there’s a temptation to miss your own life in pursuing the lives of your betters.”

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

“They don’t know what a mean old bitch art can be.”

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

“If you’re going to do something that looks evil, don’t smear it with icing and pretend it’s good; just bloody well do it and keep your eyes peeled.”

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

“Milady said that with the Bible and Shakespeare it was better to be a little cool, rather than too hot; the meaning emerged more powerfully. ‘Listen to Sir John,’ she said, ‘and you’ll find that he never pushes a line as far as it will go.’ That was how I learned about never doing your damnedest; your next-to-damnedest was far better.”

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

“We passed through Deptford during the latter part of our tour, on a hop between Windsor and London: I found out from the conductor of the train that we would stop to take on water for the engine there, and that the pause would be short, but sufficient for my purpose; as we chugged past the gravel pit beside the railway line I was poised on the steps at the back of the train, and as we pulled in to the station, so small and so familiar, I swung down onto the platform and surveyed all that was to be seen of the village.

“I could look down most of the length of our main street. I recognized a few buildings and saw the spires of the five churches — Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Catholic — among the leafless trees. Solemnly, I spat. Then I went behind the train to the siding where, so many years ago, Willard had imprisoned me in Abdullah, and there I spat again. Spitting is not a ceremonious action, but I crowded it with loathing, and when I climbed back on the train I felt immeasurably better. I had not settled any scores, or altered my feelings, but I had done something of importance. Nobody knew it, but Paul Dempster had visited his childhood home. I have never returned.”

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

“Children are a miserable audience for magic; everybody thinks they are fond of marvels, but they are generally literal-minded little toughs who want to know how everything is done; they have not yet attained to the sophistication that takes pleasure in being deceived. The very small ones aren’t so bad, but they are in a state of life where a rabbit might just as well appear out of a hat as from anywhere else; what really interests them is the rabbit.”

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

“They were people who liked imagination to be circumscribed: you were a wealthy bourgeois papa, and you wanted to give your little Clothilde a surprise on her birthday, so you went to the very best toymaker and spent a lot of money on an effigy of a little bootblack who whistled as he shined the boot he held in his hands. See, Clothilde, see! How he nods his head and taps with his foot as he brushes away! How merrily he whistles ‘Ach, du lieber Augustin’! Open the back of his case — carefully, my darling, better let papa do it for you — and there is the spring, which pumps the little bellows and works the little barrel-and-pin device that releases the air into the pipes that makes the whistle. And these little rods and eccentric wheels make the boy polish the boot and wag his head and tap his toe. Are you not grateful to papa for this lovely surprise? Of course you are, my darling. And now we shall put the little boy on a high shelf, and perhaps on Saturday evenings papa will make it work for you. Because we mustn’t risk breaking it, must we? Not after papa spent so much money to buy it. No, we must preserve it with care, so that a century from now Herr Direktor Jeremias Naegeli will include it in his collection.”

— Robertson Davies (from World of Wonders)

E

It appears that Erasmus relied heavily on just one twelfth-century manuscript for the Gospels and another, also of the twelfth century, for the book of Acts and the Epistles — although he was able to consult several other manuscripts and make corrections based on their readings. For the book of Revelation he had to borrow a manuscript from his friend the German humanist Johannes Reuchlin; unfortunately, this manuscript was almost impossible to read in places, and it had lost its last page, which contains the final six verses of the book. In his haste to have the job done, in those places Erasmus simply took the Latin Vulgate and translated its text back into Greek, thereby creating some textual readings found today in no surviving Greek manuscript. And this, as we shall see, is the edition of the Greek New Testament that for all practical purposes was used by the translators of the King James Bible nearly a century later.

— Bart D. Ehrman (from Misquoting Jesus)

The spiritual path means making a path rather than following one.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

In the Buddha’s psychological teachings the major obstacle to this kind of spontaneous relating is called delusion. Delusion is the mind’s tendency to seek premature closure about something. It is the quality of mind that imposes a definition on things and then mistakes the definition for the actual experience.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

Because mindfulness of feelings involves the careful attention to the flow of pleasant and unpleasant sensation in the body, there is none of the usual picking and choosing that otherwise colors our experience. When I was instructed in this method, I was taught to simply note whatever I was feeling: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. My observing mind functioned almost as another person, watching the flow of sensation with relative ease. This created a very different relationship with my internal world than the one I was used to. My chronic tendency was to shrink from the unpleasant and reach for the pleasant. Mindfulness of feelings encouraged a dispassionate acceptance of both.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

When asked once by one of his Western students puzzling over Buddhist teachings of egolessness, “Well then, if there is no self, what is it that reincarnates?” the Tibetan lama Chgyam Trungpa laughed and answered without hesitation.
“Neurosis,” he replied.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

Connection is our natural state; we just have to learn to permit it.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

We recoil from the revelation of our lover’s freedom. We insist on holding on, or we withdraw prematurely, rather than trusting in love’s ability to constantly reassert itself. Yet this is precisely what makes a relationship as much of a spiritual teaching as a classical meditation. Both confront us with our refusal to let go, with our expectations for how things are supposed to be. Both demand faith that we will survive our own worst impulses. Both reveal the essential unknowability of self and other while at the same time providing a means of reveling in it.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

Reveling in intimacy means simultaneously appreciating its fleetingness. This is one of the reasons why we shy away from intimacy — it tends to put us in touch with our own vulnerability.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

One of the most important tasks of adulthood is to discover, or rediscover, the ability to lose oneself.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

In the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, those moments of unknowing when the mind is naturally loosed from its moorings are said to be special opportunities for realization. During orgasm, at the moment of death, or while falling asleep or ending a dream are times when the veils of knowing are spontaneously lifted and the underlying luminosity of the mind shines through. But we have a powerful resistance to experiencing this mind in all of its brilliance. We are afraid to let ourselves go all the way. To set ourselves adrift requires a trust that for most of us was lost in childhood.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

The Buddhist way of working with the mind has profound implications for how we as individuals think about change. In Western theories, the hope is always that emptiness can be healed, that if the character is developed or the trauma resolved that the background feelings will diminish. If we can make the ego stronger, the expectation is that emptiness will go away. In Buddhism, the approach is reversed. Focus on the emptiness, the dissatisfaction, and the feelings of imperfection, and the character will get stronger. Learn how to tolerate nothing and your mind will be at rest. Psychotherapy tends to focus on the personal melodrama, exploring its origins and trying to clean up its mess. Buddhism seeks, instead, to purify the insight of emptiness.

— Mark Epstein (from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart)

F

The process is this: Every time my heart shatters, there’s a new one underneath, slightly different. I wonder if I’ll ever run out of hearts.

— Mary Catherine Fish (from Beyond the Road’s End)

Never underestimate your readers’ intelligence. Never overestimate their information.

— Joe Flower

Translating a play is rather like writing one. The first principle, surely, is that each line should be what that particular character would have said at that particular moment if he had been a native English-speaker. This involves inhabiting that character, or trying to, as intimately as if he were one’s own. The second basic principle, it seems to me, is that every line must be as immediately comprehensible as it was in the original; there are no footnotes in the theatre, and no turning back to a previous page.

— Michael Frayn (from “A Note on the Translation” in Chekhov: Plays)

G

You send hate mail to an author at your own risk. An author won’t read it as a personal attack — he’ll read it as the setup for a punch line.

— David Gerrold (on Facebook, 8 September 2013)

Maximum information, minimum number of syllables.

— Allen Ginsberg

(on writing for the theater:)
Just look at what you’re writing for!
Some come from boredom, some come half asleep
From a full meal — yes, and what’s worse,
A lot come straight from reading the papers.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (from Faust, as translated by Randall Jarrell)

That’s how we ought to give the play!
Just reach right down into the whole of life:
All of us live it, not many of us know it,
And wherever you get hold of it, it’s interesting.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (from Faust, as translated by Randall Jarrell)

A man must make mistakes, as long as he keeps trying.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (from Faust, as translated by Randall Jarrell)

It’s exactly where a thought is lacking
That, just in time, a word shows up instead.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (from Faust, as translated by Randall Jarrell)

As long as man keeps hearing words
He’s sure that there’s a meaning somewhere.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (from Faust, as translated by Randall Jarrell)

A good translation for the theater is never literal. It’s always an adaptation. What works in another language does not always work in our language, and our audiences have changed throughout the centuries.

— Lillian Groag

He pulled the curtains of the bedstead aside. It provided ample room for himself and his three wives. As a rule he didn’t like them all sleeping together. At home each of his wives had her own separate bedroom, and he either passed the night there or invited one to his own bedroom. As a staunch Confucianist he thought that to be the only proper arrangement. He knew that many husbands slept with all their wives together in one bedroom, but Judge Dee thought that a bad habit. It lessened the women’s self-respect and did not make for a harmonious household. However, when travelling it couldn’t be helped.

— Robert van Gulik (from The Haunted Monastery)

H

I said to my therapist at one point, “Well, if every child deserves unconditional love, why don’t we get it?” And she said, ‘Well, it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Even they didn’t get unconditional love.’

— Blanche Hartman (from a talk at the Gay Buddhist Fellowship on April 11, 2004)

There’s no tug-of-war if you drop your end of the rope.

— Carolyn Hax

Who are the great critics of the classical literatures, the critics with real insight into the classical spirit, the critics who teach with authority and not as the scribes? They are such men as Lessing or Goethe or Matthew Arnold, scholars no doubt, but not scholars of minute or profound learning. Matthew Arnold went to his grave under the impression that the proper way to spell lacrima was to spell it with a y, and that the words andros paidophonoio poti stoma kheir’ oregesthai meant ‘to carry to my lips the hand of him that slew my son.’ We pedants know better: we spell lacrima with an i, and we know that the verse of Homer really means ‘to reach forth my hand to the chin of him that slew my son.’ But when it comes to literary criticism, heap up in one scale all the literary criticism that the whole nation of professed scholars ever wrote, and drop into the other the thin green volume of Matthew Arnold’s Lectures on Translating Homer, which has long been out of print because the British public does not care to read it, and the first scale, as Milton says, will straight fly up and kick the beam.

— A.E. Housman (from his introductory lecture as professor of Latin at University College, London, 1892)

Many a good work has been spoilt by the vain passion for completeness.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

By a literary critic I understand a man who has things to say about literature which are both true and new. Appreciation of literature, and the ability to say things about it which are true but not new, is a much commoner endowment. That a scholar should appreciate literature is good for his own pleasure and profit; but it is none of his business to communicate that appreciation to his audience. Appreciation of literature is just as likely to be found in his audience as in him, for it has no connexion with scholarship. He has no right to presume that his own aesthetic perceptions are superior to those of anyone whom he addresses, or that in this respect he is better qualified to teach them than they to teach him.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

It is unfortunately true that audiences in general are fond of being told what they know already, and that the desire of most readers and hearers is not to be given thoughts which are new and true, but thoughts which, whether true or false, are their own thoughts, and which they rejoice to recognize dressed up in the current variety of academic journalese, and tricked out with an assortment of popular adjectives. Present to them the literary opinions which they already hold, couched in the dialect which they believe to be good English, and sprinkled over with epithets like delicate, sympathetic, and vital, and you will easily persuade the great majority that they are listening to literary criticism.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

When Horace is reported to have said seu mobilibus ueris inhorruit adventus foliis, and when pedants like Bentley and Munro object that the phrase is unsuitable to its context, of what avail is it to be assured by persons of taste — that is to say persons of British taste, Victorian taste, and sub-Tennysonian taste — that these are exquisite lines? Exquisite to whom? Consider the mutations of opinion, the reversals of literary judgment, which this one small island has witnessed in the last 150 years; what is the likelihood that your notions or your contemporaries’ notions of the exquisite are those of a foreigner who wrote for foreigners two millenniums ago? And for what foreigners? For the Romans, for men whose religion you disbelieve, whose chief institution you abominate, whose manners you do not like to talk about, but whose literary tastes, you flatter yourself, were identical with yours. No: in this aspect we must learn to say of our tastes what Isaiah says of our righteousnesses: they are as filthy rags. Our first task is to get rid of them, and to acquire, if we can, by humility and self-repression, the tastes of the classics; not to come stamping into the library of Apollo on the Palatine without so much as wiping our shoes on the doormat, and cover the floor with the print of feet which have waded through the miry clay of the nineteenth century into the horrible pit of the twentieth. It is not to be supposed that this age, because it happens to be ours, has been specially endowed with a gift denied to all other modern ages; that we, by nature or by miracle, have mental affinity with the ancients, or that we can lightly acquire it, or that we can even acquire it at all. Communion with the ancients is purchasable at no cheaper rate that the kingdom of heaven; we must be born again. But to be born again is a process exceedingly repugnant to all right-minded Englishmen. I believe they think it improper, and they have a strong and well-grounded suspicion that it is arduous. They would much rather retain the prevalent opinion that the secret of the classical spirit is open to anyone who has a fervent admiration for the second-best parts of Tennyson.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

In those [German] periodicals which review work upon the classics you may note a perpetual recurrence of two favourite adjectives, one the conventional sign of approval, and the other of disapprobation. The one is the German word which means methodical, the other is the German word which means arbitrary. Whenever you see a writer’s practice praised as methodisch, you find upon investigation that he has laid down a hand and fast rule and has stuck to it through thick and thin. Whenever you see a writer’s practice blamed as willkürlich, you find upon investigation that he has been guilty of the high crime and misdemeanour of reasoning. Now the cause of this labelling, and its purpose, are equally evident. The cause may be expressed in the words of the greatest of Germans. “Thinking is hard,” says Goethe, “and acting according to thought is irksome” (Denken ist schwer, nach dem Gedachten handeln unbequem.) The purpose is to lighten this labour for minds unable to cope with it, and to make the editing of a classic as simple a matter as consulting a table of logarithms. In short, while the English fault is to confuse this study with literature, the German fault is to pretend it is mathematics.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

Rigid rules for a fluid matter are false rules. In fact, so soon as ever we quit the abstractions of mathematics, general rules, and indeed all generalisations whatsoever, are only feasible at the cost of some sacrifice of truth.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

No two particular things are exactly alike, and the better we know them the less alike we find them: perfect knowledge, if we possessed it, would render generalisation impossible.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

Men hate to feel insecure; and a sense of insecurity depends much less on the correctness of our opinions than on the firmness with which we hold them; so that by excluding intelligence we can often exclude discomfort. The first thing wanted is a canon of orthodoxy, and the next thing is a pope. The disciple resorts to the teacher, and the request he makes of him is not tell me how to get rid of error but tell me how to get rid of doubt.

— A.E. Housman (from his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture)

Most men are rather stupid, and most of those who are not stupid are, consequently, rather vain; and it is hardly possible to step aside from the pursuit of truth without falling a victim either to your stupidity or else to your vanity. Stupidity will then attach you to received opinions, and you will stick in the mud; or vanity will set you hunting for novelty, and you will find mare’s-nests.

— A.E. Housman (from “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism”)

In short I think that the production of poetry, in its first stage, is less an active than a passive and involuntary process; and if I were obliged not to define poetry, but to name the class of things to which it belongs, I should call it a secretion; whether a natural secretion, like turpentine in the fir, or a morbid secretion, like the pearl in the oyster. I think that my own case, though I may not deal with the material so cleverly as the oyster does, is the latter; because I have seldom written poetry unless I was rather out of health, and the experience, though pleasurable, was generally agitating and exhausting.

— A.E. Housman (from “The Name and Nature of Poetry”)

Three minutes’ thought would suffice to find this out; but thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time.

— A.E. Housman (from “The Editing of Juvenal”)

Being a perfectionist is not a problem — I want everything done as well as it can be done in this moment. The problem is that I’m really an imperfectionist. I’m not actually looking for that which is perfect, I’m seeking the imperfect. I will examine and change standards until the goal is impossible, then I will label that goal “perfection”. The next step is to beat myself for failing to meet my perfectionist ideals.

— Cheri Huber (from That Which You Are Seeking Is Causing You to Seek)

The first thing to consider here is that there is nothing more important than compassion. Nothing. There is nothing that needs to be done, nothing that needs to be improved, not if the price we must pay is to lose compassion.

— Cheri Huber (from That Which You Are Seeking Is Causing You to Seek)

There is no such thing as a mistake. “Mistake” is an idea we use to torture ourselves. When we pay attention, everything enlightens us.

— Cheri Huber (from That Which You Are Seeking Is Causing You to Seek)

It is far better to do something wrong than to live one’s life in fear of doing something wrong.

— Cheri Huber (from That Which You Are Seeking Is Causing You to Seek)

I am not here to become an acceptable person.
I am here to accept the person I am.

— Cheri Huber (from There Is Nothing Wrong With You)

If you are afraid of making a mistake, you’ve already made it.

— Cheri Huber (from There Is Nothing Wrong With You)

Nonacceptance is always suffering, no matter what you’re not accepting.
Acceptance is always freedom, no matter what you’re accepting.

— Cheri Huber (from There Is Nothing Wrong With You)

I don’t have much respect for setting hard-and-fast standards because it seems to me that we tend to use them as an excuse for not being present. And we often choose a standard over compassion, and I think choosing anything over compassion is not a good idea.

— Cheri Huber (from Nothing Happens Next)

Someone said to me recently, “All we have to do is show up and accept the miracles.”

— Cheri Huber (from Nothing Happens Next)

Living in a monastery is not an escape from life. The main difference between life in a monastery and life in the world is that in the monastery there are no excuses.

— Cheri Huber (from Nothing Happens Next)

I

Never mind the exact notes or the right notes, they’re always a nuisance. Just let the spirit of the stuff sail up to the Eiffel Tower and on to Heaven.

— Charles Ives (from a letter dated 28 May 1931)

The underprivileged in this country can still raise a fair political stink on occasion, but it is nothing compared to the titanic stench that erupts when the overprivileged are invited onto a level playing field.

— Molly Ivins (from Shrub, The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush)

J

If those who would lead you say to you, “Look, the Kingdom of God is in the sky,” then the birds will get there before you. If they say to you, “It is in the sea,” then the fish will get there before you. No, the Kingdom of God is inside you, and it is outside you.

— Jesus (from the Gospel of Thomas 3)

Be passersby.

— Jesus (from the Gospel of Thomas 42)

The kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and people do not see it.

— Jesus (from the Gospel of Thomas 113)

A farmer went out to sow seed. And as he did, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it. Some seed fell on rocky ground, where it sprang up quickly in the shallow soil. But when the sun rose, it was scorched, and because it had no root, it withered away. Still other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew and choked it, and it gave no grain. And other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.

— Jesus (Matthew 13:3–8)

Fools, didn’t the one who made the outside make the inside, too? Only give what is inside for alms and, behold, all things are clean for you.

— Jesus (Luke 11:41–42)

K

If the national Democratic Party began to prosper in the 1880s, it was principally because, given a choice between active Republican corruption and passive Democratic corruption, more voters began choosing the latter.

— Walter Karp (from The Politics of War)

Such popular reactions meant nothing to [Grover] Cleveland. All through his public life he found it impossible to understand how anyone could hold views contrary to his own. There seemed to be no accounting for such human folly.

— Walter Karp (from The Politics of War)

In fact the Cuban émigrés [who began a violent rebellion against Spanish rule in February 1895] had timed their revolt well. Republicans who were openly betraying the cause of Amerian Negroes would laud the guerrillas’ struggle as a crusade for “Republicanism”; politicians avid to forge corrupt ties with Wall Street would denounce New York’s “money changers” for refusing to support the rebel cause. Democrats would take time out from threatening black Populists with mayhem in the South to sing the praises of black arsonists in Cuba. Republican expansionists, eager to annex the remnants of Spain’s Caribbean empire, would cry up “Cuba libre” and the sacred cause of Cuban independence. The same politicians (and newspapers) who had lauded [Grover] Cleveland’s military assault on the law-abiding Pullman strikers would hurl abuse at Spain for daring to suppress guerrillas who were trying to turn Cuba into “ruin and ashes.” Party politicians, professing themselves stricken with grief over the plight of the Cubans, would insist that the “dictates of humanity” compelled the United States to end the suffering on an island a mere ninety miles from our shores, while overlooking as best they could the gross inequities, the widespread suffering, and the just demands for reform then pulsing through a great and prostrated republic ninety miles from the shores of Cuba.

— Walter Karp (from The Politics of War)

Minority theaters never have produced important work. Every great play we have ever been lucky enough to feast our eyes on has come out of a popular playhouse.

— Walter Kerr (from How Not to Write a Play)

It is perfectly true, by the way, that a craftily popular theater sometimes produces Bertha, the Sewing-Machine Girl and nothing more. It is also true that the same kind of theater, consciously catering to the same kind of audience, has at other times produced Macbeth, Oedipus, and Tartuffe.

— Walter Kerr (from How Not to Write a Play)

An ambition can die of either failure or success.

— Walter Kerr (from How Not to Write a Play)

If both Saroyan and Shaw manage to survive lapses of time that have sent many another playwright to the theatrical graveyard, it is because neither one of them ever wrote anything that could conceivably be mistaken for realistic conversation.

— Walter Kerr (from Pieces at Eight)

Those who remember the past sometimes repeat it anyway.

— Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 4, 2010

L

Heaven and Earth
are not sentimental.
They have no favorites.
Everything there is,
is made to serve its purpose,
is sacrificed in the process,
and is thrown away.

The wise, therefore, are not sentimental.
They have no family.
Everything there is, is family.

High and low,
they honor alike.
Great and small,
they help each serve its purpose.
Good and evil,
they let go
and hold on to nothing.

— Laozi (from the Dao De Jing, trans. DSM)

Only betrayal, it seems, is timeless.

— John Le Carré (from the July 1989 introduction to The Honourable Schoolboy)

Look again at the photograph. The jaw. The stern unsmiling jaw locking out expression. The little mouth clamped shut and downward to keep its secrets safe. That face cannot discard a single bad memory or experience, because it has nobody to share them with. It is condemned to store every one of them away until the day when it will break from overloading.

— John Le Carré (from A Perfect Spy)

M

“Did I offend you?” [Tyrion] Lannister said. “Sorry. Dwarfs don’t have to be tactful. Generations of capering fools in motley have won me the right to dress badly and say any damn thing that comes into my head.”

— George R. R. Martin (from A Game of Thrones)

Art is a mistress who takes more kindly to the lover who chucks her under the chin than to the lover who kisses the hem of her garment. She is indifferent to morals: no excellence of motive will enable you to write a good play or paint a good picture. A lofty purpose will not serve you so well as a competent technique.

— W. Somerset Maugham (from the preface to Six Comedies)

It is unreasonable to expect masterpieces; a masterpiece is an accident.

— W. Somerset Maugham (from the preface to Six Comedies)

We admire people who oppose the regime in a totalitarian country and think they have courage or a “strong moral sense” or have remained “true to their principles” or the like. We may also smile at their naïveté, thinking, “Don’t they realize that their words are of no use at all against this oppressive power? That they will have to pay dearly for their protest?”

Yet it is possible that both those who admire and those who scorn these protesters are missing the real point: individuals who refuse to adapt to a totalitarian regime are not doing so out of a sense of duty or because of naïveté but because they cannot help but be true to themselves. The longer I wrestle with these questions, the more I am inclined to see courage, integrity, and a capacity for love not as “virtues”, not as moral categories, but as the conseqences of a benign fate.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

It is difficult to write about child abuse without taking on a moralizing tone. It is so natural to feel outrage at the adult who beats a chid and pity for the helpless child that, even with a great deal of understanding of human nature, one is tempted to condemn the adult for being cruel and brutal. But where will you find human beings who are only good or only cruel? The reason why parents mistreat their children has less to do with character and temperament than with the fact that they were mistreated themselves and were not permitted to defend themselves.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

The way we were treated as small children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our life.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

When a person cannot talk about the cruelty endured as a child because it was experienced so early that it is beyond the reach of memory, then he or she must demonstrate cruelty.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head on.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

Mourning is the opposite of feeling guilt; it is an expression of pain that things happened as they did and that there is no way to change the past.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

The attempt to be an ideal parent, that is, to behave correctly toward the child, to raise her correctly, not to give too little or too much, is in essence an attempt to be the ideal child — well behaved and dutiful — of one’s own parents. But as a result of these efforts the needs of the child go unnoticed.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

As I have repeatedly stressed, it is not the trauma itself that is the source of illness but the unconscious, repressed, hopeless despair over not being allowed to give expression to what one has suffered and the fact that one is not allowed to show and is unable to experience feelings of rage, anger, humiliation, despair, helplessness, and sadness. This causes many people to commit suicide because life no longer seems worth living if they are totally unable to live out all these strong feelings that are part of their true self. Naturally, we cannot require parents to face something they are unable to face, but we can keep confronting them with the knowledge that it was not the suffering per se that made their child ill but its repression, which was essential for the sake of the parents. I have found that this knowledge often provides parents with an “aha!” experience that opens up for them the possibility of mourning, thus helping to reduce their guilt feelings.

— Alice Miller (from For Your Own Good)

The only legal way to act out rage openly and violently in peacetime is in disciplining one’s children.

— Alice Miller (from The Untouched Key)

Few students want to read and write, and we pander more and more to their disinclination.

— Richard Mitchell (from The Underground Grammarian, October 1977)

Visions, revelations, prophecies, ecstasies, experiences of being caught up, like Paul, into the third or seventh heaven and seeing things unspeakable — these occur east and west, north and south, in every shamanic and religious tradition, given the proper conditions of sensory deprivation or religious fervor or concentration. But any good spiritual teacher will discourage us from taking them too seriously, and will teach us to let them come and go like any other experience. Why? In any vision there is still a subject and an object; we are here, the vision is there. We may see the Mother of God or God the Father on his imperial throne; but after the vision fades, if we haven’t seen to the source of all visions, we take up our lives again untransformed. The problem with most mystical experiences is their residue of fascination. People who have them are tempted to think that God is more present there than in other aspects of their life. The experiences are like medicine that cures a disease but has strong and harmful side effects. Usually the cure itself needs to be cured.

— Stephen Mitchell (from The Gospel According to Jesus)

Not even the greatest Masters were spared the process of spiritual death and rebirth.

— Stephen Mitchell (from The Gospel According to Jesus)

As for a sin against God, there is no such thing. Do the clouds sin against the sunlight?

— Stephen Mitchell (from The Gospel According to Jesus)

N

The man who would criticize his own laughter would criticize his own prayers.

— George Jean Nathan (from Materia Critica)

The critic who cannot enjoy Hamlet one night and the Follies the next seems to me to have something constitutionally wrong with him.

— George Jean Nathan (from Materia Critica)

No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched.

— George Jean Nathan (from The World in Falseface)

P

The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.

— Blaise Pascal (from a letter dated December 4, 1656)

God has shown me that I should call no person common or unclean.

— Peter (in Acts 10:28)

The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away.

— Robert Pirzig (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

Chris seems to understand my remoteness better than they do, perhaps because he’s more used to it and his relationship to me is such that he has to be more concerned. In his face I sometimes see a look of worry, or at least anxiety, and wonder why, and then discover that I’m angry. If I hadn’t seen his expression, I might not have known it. Other times he’s running and jumping all over the place and I wonder why and discover that it’s because I’m in a good mood.

— Robert Pirzig (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

R

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

— Rumi

In all ten directions of the universe,
there is only one truth.
When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same.
What can ever be lost? What can be attained?
If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time.
If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us.
Look: this ball in my pocket:
can you see how priceless it is?

— Taigu Ryokan

S

He said that so often after he’d finished a poem he thought of Miss Overman. It should be said that Miss Overman had been the librarian in the first public-library branch in New York we regularly used when we were children. He said he felt he owed Miss Overman a painstaking, sustained search for a form of poetry that was in accord with his own peculiar standards and yet not wholly incompatible, even at first sight, with Miss Overman’s tastes. When he got through saying that, I pointed out to him calmly, patiently — that is, of course, at the bloody top of my voice — what I thought were Miss Overman’s shortcomings as a judge, or even a reader, of poetry. He then reminded me that on his first day in the public library (alone, aged six) Miss Overman, wanting or not as a judge of poetry, had opened a book to a plate of Leonardo’s catapult and placed it brightly before him, and that it was no joy to him to finish writing a poem and know that Miss Overman would have trouble turning to it with pleasure or involvement, coming, as she probably would come, fresh from her beloved Mr. Browning or her equally dear, and no less explicit, Mr. Wordsworth. The argument — my argument, his discussion — ended there. You can’t argue with someone who believes, or just passionately suspects, that the poet’s function is not to write what he must write but, rather, to write what he would write if his life depended on his taking responsibility for writing what he must in a style designed to shut out as few of his old librarians as humanly possible.

— J. D. Salinger (from Seymour: an Introduction)

I can’t believe God recognizes any form of blasphemy. It’s a prissy word invented by the clergy.

— J. D. Salinger (from Seymour: an Introduction)

If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.

— J. D. Salinger (from Seymour: an Introduction)

Unfortunately, or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent. All grammars leak.

— Edward Sapir (from Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech)

Beware of the man whose god is in the skies.

— George Bernard Shaw (from Maxims for Revolutionists)

Where there is no ventilation fresh air is declared unwholesome. Where there is no religion hypocrisy becomes good taste. Where there is no knowledge ignorance calls itself science.

— George Bernard Shaw (from Maxims for Revolutionists)

Every man to whom salvation is offered has an inalienable natural right to say “No, thank you: I prefer to retain my full moral responsibility: it is not good for me to be able to load a scapegoat with my sins: I should be less careful how I committed them if I knew they would cost me nothing.”

— George Bernard Shaw (from the preface to Androcles and the Lion)

FERROVIUS: The Christian god is not yet. He will come when Mars and I are dust; but meanwhile I must serve the gods that are, not the God that will be.

— George Bernard Shaw (from Androcles and the Lion)

It is a recognized maxim of literary ethics that none but the dead can deserve a commentary, seeing that they can no longer either explain themselves or perturb the explanations of those who devote themselves to the congenial, and frequently not unprofitable, task of making plain what was previously obscure, and profound what was previously plain.

— F. C. S. Shiller (writing as “Snarkophilus Snobbs”, from “A Commentary on the Snark”)

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Only through imitation do we develop toward originality.

— John Steinbeck (from Travels With Charley)

I took the little pills and paid my bill and got out of there. It wasn’t that this veterinary didn’t like animals. I think he didn’t like himself, and when that is so the subject usually must find an area for dislike outside himself. Else he would have to admit his self-contempt.

On the other hand, I yield to no one in my distaste for the self-styled dog-lover, the kind who heaps up his frustrations and makes a dog carry them around. Such a dog-lover talks baby talk to mature and thoughtful animals, and attributes his own sloppy characteristics to them until the dog becomes in his mind an alter ego. Such people, it seems to me, in what they imagine to be kindness, are capable of inflicting long and lasting tortures on an animal, denying it any of its natural desires and fulfillments until a dog of weak character breaks down and becomes the fat, asthmatic, befurred bundle of neuroses. When a stranger addresses Charley in baby talk, Charley avoids him. For Charley is not a human; he’s a dog, and he likes it that way. He feels that he is a first-rate dog and has no wish to be a second-rate human.

— John Steinbeck (from Travels With Charley)

Across the street and on the corner there was a bar and restaurant. One winter dusk when the sidewalks were iced I stood in my window looking out and saw a tipsy woman come out of the bar, slip on the ice, and fall flat. She tried to struggle up but slipped and fell again and lay there screaming maudlinly. At that moment the Negro who worked for me came around the corner, saw the woman, and instantly crossed the street, keeping as far from her as possible.

When he came in I said, “I saw you duck. Why didn’t you give that woman a hand?”

“Well, sir, she’s drunk and I’m a Negro. If I touched her she could easily scream rape, and then it’s a crowd, and who believes me?”

“It took quick thinking to duck that fast.”

“Oh, no sir!” he said. “I’ve been practicing to be a Negro a long time.”

— John Steinbeck (from Travels With Charley)

Everything is perfect, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

— Shunryu Suzuki (1905–1971, Zen master of San Francisco Zen Center)

T

Whenever my mother talks to me, she begins the conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument.

— Amy Tan (from The Kitchen God’s Wife)

That is the saddest part when you lose someone you love — that person keeps changing. And later you wonder, Is this the same person I lost? Maybe you lost more, maybe less, ten thousand different things that come from your memory or imagination — and you do not know which is which, which was true, which is false.

— Amy Tan (from The Kitchen God’s Wife)

“More tea?” my father asked. And because he had asked, rather than ordered the servant to pour the tea right away, that was our sign the visit was over.

— Amy Tan (from The Kitchen God’s Wife)

The gnarled pine, I would have said, touch it. That is China. Horticulturalists from around the world have come to study it. Yet no one has ever been able to explain why it grows like a corkscrew, just as no one can adequately explain China. But like that tree, there it is, old, resilient, and oddly magnificent. Within that tree are the elements in nature that have inspired Chinese artists for centuries: gesture over geometry, subtlety over symmetry, constant flow over static form.

And the temples, walk in and touch them. That is China. Don’t merely stare at those murals and statues. Fly up to the crossbeams, get down on your hands and knees, and press your head to the floor tiles. Hide behind that pillar and come eye to eye with its flecks of paint. Imagine that you are an interior decorator who is a thousand years in age. Start with a bit of Tibetan Buddhism, add a smidgen of Indian Buddhism, a dab of Han Buddhism, plus a dash each of animism and Taoism. A hodgepodge, you say? No, what is in those temples is an amalgam that is pure Chinese, a lovely shabby elegance, a glorious messy motley that makes China infinitely intriguing. Nothing is ever completely thrown away and replaced. If one period of influence falls out of favor, it is patched over. The old views still exist, one chipped layer beneath, ready to pop through with the slightest abrasion.

— Amy Tan (from Saving Fish from Drowning)

The only thing certain in times of great uncertainty is that people will behave with great strength or weakness, and with very little else in between.

— Amy Tan (from Saving Fish from Drowning)

Through trial with death, you discover your power. Through trial, you shed your mortal flesh, layer after layer, until you become who you are supposed to be. If you die, you were mortal all along. But if you survive, you are a god.

— Amy Tan (from Saving Fish from Drowning)

It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to neglect it.

— Rabbi Tarfon (as quoted in the Talmud)

Apparently research shows that all our brain is for is to report to us what it is we just did and make up a reason for why we did it.

— Tom Toles

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s