On Literature and Writing:
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent upon the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close.
— Thich Nhat Hahn, Entering the Stream, Engaged Buddhism, 1993, Ed. Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chodzin Kohn
I’ll mention dumbly a distinction I see sometimes in the poetry I read. There is the poetry I understand too little and the poetry I understand too well. I prefer neither. Each of these extremes are too easy to achieve, leading to a special disappointment known as sleep. Sense and nonsense can be made by most anyone, but when a poet works between these poles, as C.D. does, she ratifies, through language, a difficult space that puts a reader in his best body: alert, alive, searching, raw to the way sentences make and remake our world, inside and out.
— Ben Marcus speaking about C.D. Wright, Crossroads, PSA, 2003
Shakespeare’s greatest originality was in representing his characters in the act of changing by first overhearing themselves speak, whether to themselves or to others, and then pondering their own words, and moving on the basis of the pondering to a will to change, and then to change itself.
— Harold Bloom, The Book of J
The big rule in minimalist writing is that you have 7-10 minutes to read a story. In that 7-10 minutes you have to make people. . . feel something [on a visceral level]–disease does that, violence does that, sex does that–and you have to break their heart at the end. It’s talking about the things that we CANNOT talk about that is so incredibly powerful. It gives people freedom not just to talk about those things but to laugh at those things and that…my God…we don’t need anything else.
— Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, NPR interview 7/04/04
…the value of great fiction … is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations.
— John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
If you describe them [characters] physically, you actually remove them from the reader, you distance them,” he said. “By not describing them, you begin to make their perception so intimately involved with the reader’s perceptions that it allows the reader to enter into their spirit and become them. It’s first-person intimate rather than first-person singular.
— Colm Toibin, New York Times Magazine, Apr 29, 2009
[Here was an avid reader] who clearly and inarguably preferred minor works to major ones. He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pécuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.
—Roberto Balano, 2666
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us…books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
— Franz Kafka
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.
— Mark Twain
In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; we will understand only what we have been taught.
— Baba Dioum, Senegalese Conservationist
Nothing could be further from the American Religion than the famous and beautiful remark by Spinoza in his Ethics: that whoever loved God truly should not expect to be loved by God in return. The essence of the American is the belief that God loves her or him, a conviction shared by nearly nine out of ten of us, according to a Gallup poll. To live in a country where the vast majority so enjoys God’s affection is deeply moving, and perhaps an entire society can sustain being the object of so sublime a regard, which after all was granted only to King David in the whole of the Hebrew Bible.
— Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence
of the Post-Christian Nation, 1992
“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
— Anne Lamott
. . . the word “soul” is now the hottest item in the title of book sales–but all “soul” really means, in most of these books, is simply the ego in drag.
— Ken Wilber, A Spirituality that Transforms, Ken Wilber Online, Shambhala Publications
I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man’s life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience.
— Martin Buber, I and Thou
We live in a culture that doesn’t leave a space for questions. It knows all the answers in advance. Even God has nothing left to say!
— Adonis (pronounced AH-don-ees) Arab poet born Ali Ahmad Said
To the people of New York, Paris, or London, “death” is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and most steadfast love.
— Octavio Paz
Nothing, however, can be more arrogant, though nothing is commoner that to assume that of Gods there is only one, and of religions none but the speaker’s.
—Virginia Woolf, Orlando
[The neurotic] is much nearer to the actual truth psychologically than the other and it is just that from which he suffers.
— Otto Rank, Will Therapy and Truth and Reality, 1936
He who is educated by dread [anxiety] is educated by possibility. . . .
— Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread, 1844
In life, in order to really understand the world, you must die at least once. So it’s better to die young when there is still time left to recover life again.
— Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,
On Art and Creativity:
…personal heroism through individuation is a very daring venture precisely because it separates the person out of comfortable “beyonds.”… The most terrifying burden of the creature is to be isolated, which is what happens in individuation: one separates himself out of the herd…. Here is precisely the definition of the artist type, or the creative type generally…. The key to the creative type is that he is separated out of the common pool of shared meanings. There is something in his life experience that makes him take in the world as a problem; as a result he has to make personal sense out of it. Existence becomes a problem that needs an ideal answer; but when you no longer accept the collective solution to the problem of existence, then you must fashion your own. The work of art is, then, the ideal answer of the creative type to the problem of existence as he takes it in–not only the existence of the external world, but especially his own: who he is as a painfully separate person with nothing shared to lean on. His creative work is at the same time the expression of his heroism and the justification of it. It is his “private religion” as Rank put it.
No sooner have we said this than we can see the immense problem that it poses. How can one justify his own heroism? He would have to be as God. Now we see even further how guilt is inevitable for man: even as a creator he is a creature overwhelmed by the creative process itself. This is how we understand something that seems illogical: that the more you develop as a distinctive free and critical human being, the more guilt you have. Your very work accuses you; it makes you feel inferior…. No wonder that historically art and psychosis have had such an intimate relationship.
— Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, 1973
Mankind’s human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect, mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.
— Milan Kundera
Man’s care and concern for his animals is one of his redeeming qualities; it makes him almost human.
— Baxter Black, cowboy poet
One of the strongest statements on ethical behavior is made by Robert Loest in his White Paper on Ethical Investing. In this document, Loest almost single-handedly defined a model for behaving in the financial world as one would be expected to behave in society at large.
On Humanity, Unity, Brotherhood, etc.:
The world is big. Some people are unable to comprehend that simple fact. They want the world on their own terms, its peoples just like them and their friends, its places like the manicured little patch on which they live. But this is a foolish and blind wish. Diversity is not an abnormality but the very reality of our planet. The human world manifests the same reality and will not seek our permission to celebrate itself in the magnificence of its endless varieties. Civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of world we have; narrowness of heart and mind is not.
— Chinua Achebe, political writer
Virginia Woolf, asked in 1938 what kind of freedom would advance the fight against fascism and its enduring allies, racism, colonialism and sexism, replied: “Freedom from unreal loyalties…. You must rid yourself of pride of nationality in the first place; also of religious pride, college pride, family pride, sex pride and those unreal loyalties that spring from them.”
The highest form of morality is not to feel at home even in your own home.
— Theodor Adorno, German Jewish philosopher