Category Archives: Quotable

R. Mutt

How else can we explain the fact that there is no physical unity to the work of art? What does a urinal have in common with a work on canvas, or a song, or a building, or an altarpiece? Artworks are dead in themselves, like mere noise or useless stuff. We bring them to life by putting them to work in thought, conversation, and appreciation. They have power in the way that jokes have power, as moves in a game of communication and reflection. Maker and public jointly undertake the work that makes art possible.

—Alva Noë, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, p. 137
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Wings

…no one really knows a bird until he has seen it in flight. Since my year upon the dunes, spent in a world of magnificent fliers, I have been tempted to believe that the relation of the living bird with its wings folded to the living bird in flight is almost that of the living bird to the same bird stuffed. In certain cases, the difference between the bird on the wing and the bird at rest is so great that one might be watching two different creatures. Not only do colours and new arrangements of colours appear in flight, there is also a revelation of personality.

—Henry Beston, The Outermost House, chap. V
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Quality

[Faber:] “Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Freshdetail. The good writers touch life often.”

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
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A mystery: 9

Cannery Row, like every place else, is not superstitious but will not walk under a ladder or open an umbrella in the house. Doc was a pure scientist and incapable of superstition and yet when he came in late one night and found a line of white flowers across the doorsill he had a bad time of it. But most people in Cannery Row simply do not believe in such things and then live by them.

—John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, chapter 25



A quick search doesn’t turn up anything relating to white flowers across the doorsill and their insalubrious nature. Any suggestions?

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Andreas Wolf reflects

The apparatchiks, too, were an eternal type. The tone of the new ones, in their TED Talks, in PowerPointed product launches, in testimony to parliaments and congresses, in utopianly titled books, was a smarmy syrup of convenient conviction and personal surrender that he remembered well from the Republic. He couldn’t listen to them without thinking of the Steely Dan lyric So you grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last. (Radio in the American Sector had played the song over and over to young ears in the Soviet sector.) The privileges available in the Republic had been paltry, a telephone, a flat with some air and light, the all-important permission to travel, but perhaps no paltrier than having x number of followers on Twitter, a much-liked Facebook profile, and the occasional four-minute spot on CNBC…. The New Regime even recycled the old Republic’s buzzwords, collective, collaborative. Axiomatic to both was that a new species of humanity was emerging. On this, apparatchiks of every stripe agreed. It never seemed to bother them that their ruling elites consisted of the grasping, brutal old species of humanity.

—Jonathan Franzen, Purity, pp. 448-449
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Flem Snopes

…a thick squat soft man of no establishable age between twenty and thirty, with a broad still face containing a tight seam of mouth stained slightly at the corners with tobacco, and eyes the color of stagnant water, and projecting from among the other features in startling and sudden paradox, a tiny predatory nose like the beak of a small hawk. It was as though the original nose had been left off by the original designer or craftsman and the unfinished job taken over by someone of a radically different school or perhaps by some viciously maniacal humorist or perhaps by one who had had only time to clap into the center of the face a frantic and desperate warning.

—William Faulkner, The Hamlet, Book One: Flem, Chapter Three, 1.
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Cogent connections

Our feeling is that triple certification [of coffee] has great potential. Consumers might have a short attention span, but they’re not stupid. If presented in short, cogent messages that explain the connections between the social and the environmental arguments, the average coffee drinker can undoubtedly understand the triple certification concept—and if you think about those groups that are “target audiences” for such messages (social action groups in churches or labour unions; vegetarian and organic devotees; birder associations, etc.) then the message may be even more palatable and likely to be heard.

—Ivette Perfecto, John Vandermeer, and Angus Wright, Nature’s Matrix: Linking Agriculture, Conservation, and Food Sovereignty, p. 156
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Understood completely

Colonel Cathcart was impervious to absolutes. He could measure his own progress only in relationship to others, and his idea of excellence was to do something at least as well as all the men his own age who were doing the same thing even better. The fact that there were thousands of men his own age and older who had not even attained the rank of major enlivened him with foppish delight in his own remarkable worth; on the other hand, the fact that there were men of his own age and younger who were already generals contaminated him with an agonizing sense of failure and made him gnaw at his fingernails with an unappeasable anxiety that was even more intense than Hungry Joe’s.

—Joseph Heller, Catch-22, chap. nineteen
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An American scene

It was given to me, in the nineteenth century,
to spend a lifetime on this earth.
Along with a few of the sorrows that are appointed unto men
I have had innumerable enjoyments;
and the world has been to me, even from childhood,
a great museum.

—Lydia Davis, “Our Village,” adapted from a manuscript by Sidney Brooks (1813-1887)
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Full of noises

Peter and Tuska are part of a colony on the planet Oasis. Far from being alien or exotic, living conditions on USIC’s base are designed to be stiflingly mundane, right down to the piped-in music:

They were sitting at a table in the USIC mess hall. Tuska was tucking into spaghetti Bolognese (whiteflower spaghetti, whiteflower “mince,” imported tomato sauce, imported herbs) and Peter was eating a pancake (100 percent local). The air was full of noises: the sound of rain pelting rhythmically against the windows, the mingled conversations of other employees, the clattering of metal trays, the scraping of chairs, the opening and shutting of doors, and Frank Sinatra crooning “My Funny Valentine.” It all seemed a grossly excessive amount of bustle and chatter to Peter, but he knew the problem was his perception, and he must try to get in the swing of it. The metaphorical swing, that is: no amount of effort could reconcile him to Frank Sinatra.

—Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things, chap. 17
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Cracks

INTERVIEWER: Why did you want to make a book with no beginning or end?

CHRIS WARE: When we meet someone for the first time, we don’t hear their entire life story. We learn bits and pieces and start to put together a sense of that person by mortaring in the cracks and holes around their anecdotes and personality quirks with our assumptions and guesses. Later, we’re able to think of that person more or less as an entity, from all sides and all times, and maybe even to imitate or make fun of them. But everything we think of as real is still always our own fiction. We’re all fiction writers.

The Paris Review 210, The Art of Comics No. 2
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Unlikely

I wish that, at the end of life, when things are truly “done,” there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium, or heroin. So you become addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you’ve had it with everything else: the X-rays, the MRIs, the boring food, and the pills that don’t do anything at all. Would that be so bad?

—Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?
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I heard it through the grapevine

Verifiable knowledge makes its way slowly, and only under cultivation, but fable has burrs and feet and claws and wings and an indestructible sheath like weed-seed, and can be carried almost anywhere and take root without benefit of soil or water.

—Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1954), II.4., p. 134
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Epiphany in the gap between paragraphs

Middle age is a wonderful country, all the things you thought would never happen are happening. When he was fifteen, forty-six would have seemed the end of the rainbow, he’d never get there, if a meaning of life was to show up you’d think it would have by now.

Yet at moments it seems it has, there are just no words for it, it is not something you dig for but sits on the top of the table like an unopened dewy beer can.

—John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich
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Rant

DAPHNA: Yeah. Jewish law prohibits tattoos of any kind but even if it didn’t that wouldn’t be a problem for me because just for like me personally, when I like step back and reflect on all the things that had to occur in the universe over billions of years so that I could be alive, in my body, right now, like, we’re made of the same things as stardust, that’s how connected we are, to everything, so to be like, who cares about the natural, larger-than-life mysterious universal reasons why my body was designed the way it is, like, screw that, I’m just gonna permanently etch this doodle onto my body which is composed of the same things that are in stars?!?!

—Joshua Harmon, Bad Jews
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