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Favorite passages, quotes, poems


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"Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you." Aldous Huxley  

“I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is a hall, through which everyone passes, going in and out; the drawing room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting room, where members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the hands of whose doors are perhaps never touched; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the soul sits alone and waits.”

 

— Edith Wharton, The Ghost Stories

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“Children take a particular pleasure in hiding, not because they will be found in the end, but by the very act of hiding, of being concealed in a laundry basket or a cabinet, of curling up in the corner of an attic, to the point of almost disappearing. There is an incomparable joy, a special excitement that children are unwilling to renounce for any reason. This childlike excitement is the source of both Robert Walser’s voluptuous pleasure in securing the conditions of his illegibility (the micrograms) and Walter Benjamin’s stubborn desire to go unrecognized. This pleasure and this desire are the guardians of the solitary glory revealed to children in their secret lairs.”

 

— Giorgio Agamben, “Genius”, Profanations

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Why are we worn out? Why do we, who start out so passionate, brave, noble, believing, become totally bankrupt by the age of thirty or thirty-five? Why is it that one is extinguished by consumption, another puts a bullet in his head, a third seeks oblivion in vodka, cards, a fourth, in order to stifle fear and anguish, cynically tramples underfoot the portrait of his pure, beautiful youth? Why is it that, once fallen, we do not try to rise, and, having lost one thing, we do not seek another? Why?

 

Anton Chekhov

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“The word ‘misogyny’ was rarely used when I was training to be a child psychotherapist in London in the late 1970s, but the question that invariably came up when children were being assessed was: ‘how much’ – or, rather, ‘in what sense’ – was the mother to blame? The question wasn’t explicit; even in those days people were mindful of the significance of political and economic conditions, racism and sexism, and transgenerational histories, and psychoanalysis was against blaming. Indeed if psychoanalysis was a theory of anything it was a theory of scapegoating as the saboteur of development. And yet, more often than not, the focus was on the mothers: on their histories, their states of mind, their sexuality, their failure to protect their children when there were abusive men around. There was an aversion to blaming mothers, but mothers were often told, in the nicest possible way, that if only they had done, or could do (or feel) this, this and this, their children wouldn’t be so unhappy. (Mothers and child therapists each, in their different ways, had a lot of explaining to do.) In those days, when there was a viable NHS, there were a lot of amazingly sympathetic and imaginative people working in child-guidance clinics and departments of child psychiatry, and a remarkable service of care was often provided. But, as one of my supervisors said to me, ‘No one can ever really forgive their mother.’

 

Freud, however, had been more preoccupied by fathers, differing in this respect from the prominent British child analysts Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby. Questions were asked about the significance of the father in child development, and family therapy opened up the family as a system rather than a cult of personality. At the same time we were encouraged to believe that everything depended on what the mother was like, and what the experience of dependence was like (for both the mother and the child). So powerful had mothers – and their absences – been in everyone’s life that something about femininity was deemed to require a great deal of regulation, much of it punitive and some of it nominally and some of it genuinely therapeutic. And this is where the plot against women’s pleasure (and aggression) begins, and in particular the plot against women’s pleasure that excluded men (and children). […]

 

-Adam Phillips review of: Down Girl: the Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne

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“I believe that the condition into which I was born and into which my generation in Ireland was born involved the moment of transition from sacred to profane. Other peoples, other cultures, had to go through it earlier – the transition from a condition where your space, the space of the world, had a determined meaning and a sacred possibility, to a condition where space was a neuter geometrical disposition without any emotional or inherited meaning. I watched it happen in Irish homes when I first saw a house built where there was no chimney, and then you’d go into rooms without a grate – so no hearth, which in Latin means no focus. So the hearth going away means the house is unfocused … the un-focusing of space and desacralizing of it.”

 

– Seamus Heaney

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“I am often struck by the obvious fact that the other is impenetrable, intractable, not to be found; I cannot open up the other, trace back the other’s origins, solve the riddle. Where does the other come from? Who is the other? I wear myself out, I shall never know. “I can’t get to know you” means “I shall never know what you really think of me.” I cannot decipher you because I do not know how you decipher me. […] It is not true that the more you love, the better you understand; all that the action of love obtains from me is merely this wisdom: that the other is not to be known; his opacity is not the screen around a secret, but instead, a kind of evidence in which the game of reality and appearance is done away with. I am then seized with that exaltation of loving someone unknown, someone who will remain so forever: a mystic impulse: I know what I do not know.”

 

—Roland Barthes

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“We must distinguish between ‘sentimental’ and ‘sensitive’. A sentimentalist may be a perfect brute in his free time. A sensitive person is never a cruel person. Sentimental Rousseau, who could weep over a progressive idea, distributed his many natural children through various poorhouses and workhouses and never gave a hoot for them. A sentimental old maid may pamper her parrot and poison her niece. The sentimental politician may remember Mother’s Day and ruthlessly destroy a rival. Stalin loved babies. Lenin sobbed at the opera, especially at the Traviata.”

 

— Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature

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“Once I was struck by a car in the street. I was walking. And for maybe two seconds I had the impression that I was dying and it was really a very, very intense pleasure. The weather was wonderful. It was seven o'clock during the summer. The sun was descending. The sky was very wonderful and blue and so on. It was, it still is now, one of my best memories.[…] I’m not able to give myself and others those middle-range pleasures that make up everyday life. Such pleasures are nothing for me, and I am not able to organize my life in order to make place for them. That’s the reason why I’m not a social being, why I’m not really a cultural being, why I’m so boring in my everyday life. It’s a bore to live with me.”

 

— Michel Foucault, An Interview by Stephen Riggins

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Whitehead then discussed American universities in their broad functions: “… Minds don’t classify as easily as some of my colleagues appear to think. I am profoundly suspicious of the ‘A’-man. He can say back what you want to hear in an examination, and since the examination is roughly a means of test, you must give him his A if he says it back; but the ability, not to say the willingness, to give you back what is expected of him argues a certain shallowness and superficiality. Your ‘B’-man may be a bit muddle-headed, but muddle-headedness is a condition precedent to independent thought, may actually be independent creative thought in its first stage. Of course it may get no farther than muddle-headedness. But when my colleagues chaff me for giving more A’s than they are willing to do and tax me with tender-heartedness, I reflect that I would rather not have it on my head that I was the one who discouraged an incipient talent.”

 

Lucien Price, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead

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“It occurs to me that after reading all these philosophers of futility it will be nearly impossible for anyone in the class to turn in a final paper. After reading all these unfinished or fragmentary works - after Pascal and Pessoa, after the Zibaldone and the Sudelbücher, after the diaries of Kierkegaard, Kafka, Zürn, after the rantish indictments of Schopenhauer, Bernhard, Takuboku, after the one-liners of Chamfort or Cioran, after all this, why in the world would anyone write a finished paper? I should only pass those students incapable of finishing the course.”

 

— Infinite Resignation • Eugene Thacker

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Bad luck alone does not embitter us that badly… nor does the feeling that our affairs might have been better managed move us out of range of ordinary disappointment; it is when we recognize that the loss has been caused in great part by others; that it needn’t have happened; that there is an enemy out there who has stolen our loaf, soured our wine, infected our book of splendid verse with filthy rhymes; then we are filled with resentment and would hang the villains from that bough we would have lounged in liquorous love beneath had the tree not been cut down by greedy and dim-witted loggers in the pay of the lumber interests. Watch out, then, watch out for us, be on your guard, look sharp, both ways, when we learn—we, in any numbers—when we find who is forcing us—wife, children, Commies, fat cats, Jews—to give up life in order to survive. It is this condition in men that makes them ideal candidates for the Party of the disappointed People.

 

— William H. Gass, The Tunnel

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‘To say more than human things with human voice, That cannot be; to say human things with more Than human voice, that, also, cannot be; To speak humanly from the height or from the depth Of human things, that is acutest speech.’

 

Wallace Stevens, ‘Chocorua to its Neighbor’

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“There is no doubt that late capitalism certainly articulates many of its injunctions via an appeal to (a certain version of) health. The banning of smoking in public places, the relentless monstering of working class diet on programs like You Are What You Eat, do appear to indicate that we are already in the presence of a paternalism without the Father. It is not that smoking is ‘wrong,’ it is that it will lead to our failing to lead long and enjoyable lives. But there are limits to this emphasis on good health: mental health and intellectual development barely feature at all, for instance. What we see instead is a reductive, hedonic model of health which is all about ‘feeling and looking good.’ To tell people how to lose weight … is acceptable; but to call for any kind of cultural improvement is to be oppressive and elitist.”

 

— Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

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The birds do not sing in these mornings. The skies

are white all day. The Canadian geese fly over

high up in the moonlight with the lonely sound

of their discontent. Going south. Now the rains

and soon the snow. The black trees are leafless,

the flowers gone. Only cabbages are left

in the bedraggled garden. Truth becomes visible,

the architecture of the soul begins to show through.

 

— Jack Gilbert, from “Half the Truth,”

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No wonder we cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from the horrific struggle.

 

David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster and other essays

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“A banker? Me?”

“Yes, Mr. Lipwig.”

“But I don’t know anything about running a bank!”

“Good! No preconceived ideas.”

“I’ve robbed banks!”

“Capital! Just reverse your thinking,” said Lord Vetinari, beaming. “The money should be on the inside.”

 

Terry Pratchett, Making Money

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“How many people today live in a language that is not their own? Or no longer, or not yet, even know their own and know poorly the major language that they are forced to serve? This is the problem of immigrants, and especially of their children, the problem of minorities, the problem of a minor literature but also a problem for all of us: how to tear a minor literature away from its own language, allowing it to challenge the language and making it follow a sober revolutionary path? How to become a nomad and an immigrant and a gypsy in relation to one’s own language? Kafka answers: steal the baby from its crib, walk the tight rope.”

 

― Gilles Deleuze, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature

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