Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Winter Garden

In another season of expanding darkness
I returned to the garden where it all began.

So much had changed. Everything was unfamiliar.
The air was damp and cold. The trees were grey and bare.

But I saw in one -- about chest high -- a bright red cardinal
Just the size of a human heart waiting for the spring to start.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mankind is Governed by Names

"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom." Chapter 3


"Nature has shown over and over again that the kinds of truth which underlie nature transcend the most powerful minds."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Twain on Introductions

"I never had but one introduction that seemed to me just the thing, and the gentleman was not acquainted with me and there was no nonsense. 'Ladies and gentlemen, I shall waste no time in this introduction. I know of only two facts about this man; first, he has never been in state prison; and second, I can't imagine why.'"


Luxury is easier to rent than maintain.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

This War Can Make a Hero

This war can make a hero from a man like that
And claim the best in nameless piles of dirt.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Death is A Friend

Death is a friend we meet when we are young, fear when we are grown, and welcome when we are old.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Death Has This Much

Death has this much to be said for it: You don’t have to get out of bed for it. Wherever you happen to be They bring it to you—free. —Kingsley Amis

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Hayek derived the word "Catallaxy" (Hayek's suggested Greek construction would be rendered καταλλαξία) from the Greek verb katallasso (καταλλάσσω) which meant not only "to exchange" but also "to admit in the community" and "to change from enemy into friend."

This Sandy and False Foundation

Very few of us realize with conviction the intensely unusual, unstable, complicated, unreliable, temporary nature of the economic organization by which Western Europe has lived for the last half century. We assume some of the most peculiar and temporary of our late advantages as natural, permanent, and to be depended on, and we lay our plans accordingly. On this sandy and false foundation we scheme for social improvement and dress our political platforms, pursue our animosities and particular ambitions, and feel ourselves with enough margin in hand to foster, not assuage, civil conflict in the European family. J.M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace

The Duty of Shareholders

"It is the duty of shareholders to periodically suffer losses without complaint"
A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German's self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth—science—which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.

What Science?

"What science can there be in a matter in which, as in all practical matters, nothing can be defined and everything depends on innumerable conditions, the significance of which is determined at a particular moment which arrives no one knows when?"

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Which Gang of Hooligans

"I wish they would decide once and for all which gang of hooligans constitutes the government of this country."

Saturday, October 22, 2011


"He said that poetry is no more a vocation than good health. What he needed was a job."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Work for Repentance

"…and so there was an end of that short scene of life, which added no great store to me, only to make more work for repentance."
Daniel Defoe
Moll Flanders

Reserved for Further Afflictions

"…but I was reserved for further afflictions."
Daniel Defoe
Moll Flanders

The Necessity of the Absurd

"We owe civilsation to beliefs which in our modern opinion we no longer regard as true, which are not true in the sense of science (scientific truths), but which nevertheless were a condition for the majority of mankind to submit to moral rules whose functions they did not understand, they could never explain, [and] in which indeed to all rationalist critics very soon appeared to be absurd."

 Friedrich Hayek, "Evolution and Spontaneous Order"
The 33rd Meeting of Nobel Laureates at Lindau, 1983

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grande Latrocinium

"If justice has been abolished, what is empire but a fancy name for larceny [grande latrocinium]?"
Augustine quoted in Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries

Inferre autem bella finitimis et in cetera inde procedere ac populos sibi no molestos sola regni cupiditate conterere et subdere, quid aliud quam grande latrocinium nominandum est?

"But to make war on your neighbors, and thence to proceed to others, and through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm, what else is this to be called than great robbery?"

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Horae Canonicae: Sext

You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.

To ignore the appetitive goddesses,
to desert the formidable shrines

of Rhea, Aphrodite, Demeter, Diana,
to pray instead to St. Phocas,

St Barbara, San Saturnino,
or whoever one's patron is,

that one may be worthy of their mystery,
what a prodigious step to have taken.

There should be monuments, there should be odes,
to the nameless heroes who took it first,

to the first flaker of flints
who forgot his dinner,

the first collector of sea-shells
to remain celibate.

Where should we be but for them?
Feral still, un-housetrained, still

wandering through forests without
a consonant to our names,

slaves of Dame Kind, lacking
all notion of a city

and, at this noon, for this death,
there would be no agents.

Happiness is Lived

Happiness is lived. Sorrow gets written down

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Security Over Freedom

Perhaps some people prefer security over freedom because then they can blame someone else for their misery.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Grave Consumes

The grave consumes the conquered and the conqueror.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Attend to the Best

"Probably as much bad music as good has been composed in the course of human history, but we do not expect courses in music appreciation to give it equal attention. Time being at a premium, we assume that they will attend to the best. I have adopted a similar strategy with respect to religion."

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Divine Ambiguity

There are two theological statements I disagree with. The first is that there is nothing divine in the world. The second is that the divine will is unambiguous.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Just a Boy

When just a boy, I loved two things
Two things appealed to me
One was heaven filled with stars
The other was the sea.

I could find the stars each night
Each night they came to me
And if they were obscured by clouds
I'd just wait patiently.

But the sea was hours away
And hours I could not give.
So I imagined more than I saw
So that my love could live.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Travel makes you realize just how many people there are in the world who are completely unaware of all the things that trouble you the most.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


"he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write"

Berryman by W. S. Merwin | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Sunday, March 20, 2011

David Hume at 300 | Philosophy Now

David Hume at 300 | Philosophy Now: "With evolutionary theory at hand, it’s easy to see how logically flimsy the argument from design really is; but while Hume was able to demolish the design argument’s logical pretensions, he knew that he had no positive theory to offer in its stead. Indeed, our belief in God seemed to Hume to resemble our belief in the reality of the external world: we cannot adequately answer the skeptical arguments about God or external objects, but we cannot help believing in Him or them."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Shadow Which Turns

"'Perhaps,' I thought, while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke - a thought to fade and vanish like, smoke without a trace - 'perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; vagabond-language scrawled on gate-posts and paving-stones along the weary road that other have tramped before us; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in. our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.'"

Burning Anew Among the Old Stones

The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect; the art-nouveau paint was as fresh and bright as ever; the art-nouveau lamp burned once more before the altar. I said a prayer, an ancient, newly-learned form of words, and left, turning towards the camp; and as I walked back, and the cook-house bugle sounded ahead of me, I thought:

'The builders did not know the uses to which their work would descend; they made a new house with the stones of the old castle; year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended it; year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

'And yet,' I thought, stepping out more briskly towards the camp, where the bugles after a pause had taken up the second call and were sounding 'Pick-em-up, pick-em-up, hot potatoes', 'and yet that is not the last word; it is not even an apt word; it is a dead word from ten years back.

'Something quite remote from anything the builders intended, has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time; a small red flame - a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.'

Here - My Last Love Died

"Here at the age of thirty-nine I began to be old. I felt stiff and weary in the evenings and reluctant to go out of camp; I developed proprietary claims to certain chairs and newspapers; I regularly drank three glasses of gin before dinner, never more or less, and -went to bed immediately after the nine o'clock news. I was always awake and fretful an hour before reveille.

Here -my last love died - There was nothing remarkable in the manner of its death. One day, not long before 'this last day in camp, as I lay awake before reveille, in the Nissen hut, gazing into the complete blackness, amid the deep breathing and muttering of the four other occupants, turning over in my mind what I had to do that day - had I put in the names of two corporals for the weapon-training course? Should I again have the largest number of men overstaying their leave in the batch due back that day? Could I trust Hooper to take the candidates class out map-reading? - as I lay in that dark hour, I was aghast to realize that something within me, long sickening, had quietly died, and felt as a husband might feel, who, in the fourth year of his marriage, suddenly knew that he had no longer any desire, or tenderness, or esteem, for a once-beloved wife; no pleasure in her company, no wish to please, no curiosity about anything she might ever do or say or think; no hope of setting things right, no self-reproach for the disaster. I knew it all, the whole drab compass of marital disillusion; we had been through it together, the Army and I, from the first importunate courtship until now, when nothing remained to us except the chill bonds of law and duty and custom. I had played every scene in the domestic tragedy, had found the early tiffs become more frequent, the tears less affecting, the reconciliations less sweet, till they engendered a mood of aloofness and cool criticism, and the growing conviction that it was not myself but the loved one who was at fault. I caught the false notes in her voice and learned to listen for them apprehensively; I recognized the blank, resentful stare of incomprehension in her eyes, and the selfish, hard set of the comers of her mouth. I learned her, as one must learn a woman one has kept house with, day in, day out, for three and a half years; I learned her slatternly ways, the routine and mechanism of her charm her jealousy and self-seeking and her nervous trick with the fingers when she was lying. She was stripped of all enchantment now and I knew her for an uncongenial stranger to whom I had bound myself indissolubly in a moment of folly."

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I know that in the great cosmic equation, my grief amounts to nothing. But that does not make it any less mine.

Friday, December 24, 2010

To Look and See

What is a miracle? To look at the familiar, and see the unexpected.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Sins of the Rich

"I became very rich. It used to worry me, and I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor. The poor have always been the favourites of God and His saints, but I believe that it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included. Wealth in pagan Rome was necessarily something cruel; it's not any more."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

American Women

"American women expect to find in their husbands a perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers."

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Grinding Opposition of Moral Entities

" definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange -- meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with the good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities. This is what the television news is all about. Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create."

Senseless Violence

"Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive. Its dynamism has to find an outlet in smashing telephone kiosks, derailing trains, stealing cars and smashing them and, of course, in the much more satisfactory activity of destroying human beings."

Novel, Fable, and Allegory

"There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters...When a fictional work fails to show change, when it merely indicates that human character is set, stony, unregenerable, then you are out of the field of the novel and into that of the fable or the allegory."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Democracy of the Intellect

The aristocracy of the intellect is a belief that can only destroy the civilisation that we know. If we are anything, we must be a democracy of the intellect. We must not perish by the distance between people and government, between people and power, by which Babylon and Egypt and Rome failed. And that distance can only be conflated, can only be closed, if knowledge sits in the homes and heads of people with no ambition to control others, and not up in the isolated seats of power.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Most Difficult Subjects

"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Unbending the Curve

"Yes, to integrate the grandiose cosmic equation. Yes, to unbend the wild, primitive curve and straighten it to a tangent -- an asymptote -- a straight line. For the line of the One State is the straight line. The great, divine, exact, wise straight line -- the wisest of all lines."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Theodore Meets the Milky Way

Theodore, beloved of God and a contented man,
Was reading his slender volume of visible light

When, like a dreamer startled from his dream,
He was struck by some unsettling thoughts

"There is more here, much more than I can understand
Things that I cannot even imagine perhaps

More than the storms of distant atmospheres
The bits of failed planets that circle the sun
The dormant seeds of heaven
The spectral lights of ancient gods
Things within and beyond my little bag of metaphors.

Even my equations that reveal so much without words
They confirm my suspicions:
The opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but humility.
Awake, the empty spaces of creation arrange themselves."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boat Slips

Across the transoms
The quiet voices of men
At work on things they love.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dedicated to Unhappiness

"There are few things humans are more dedicated to than unhappiness. Had we been placed on earth by a malign creator for the exclusive purpose of suffering, we would have good reason to congratulate ourselves on our enthusiastic response to the task. Reasons to be inconsolable abound: the frailty of our bodies, the fickleness of love, the insincerities of social life, the compromises of friendship, the deadening effects of habit. In the face of such persistent ills, we might naturally expect that no event would be awaited with greater anticipation than the moment of our own extinction."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


"I wouldn't want to live without strong misgivings."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Misleading Notes to Myself

One life is fragile. Life itself is not. Life continues deep within the earth and inbetween the stars.


Thomas Pynchon: a seriously talented writer determined not to take his talent too seriously for too long.


Pynchon's Inherent Vice: Shaggy grows up, ditches Scooby-Doo and the gang, goes public with his drug use, changes his name to Sportello, and becomes a private detective in L.A.


Every respiration is a part of the same process that moves the planets and illuminates the stars. Being is creation.


God is one of the ways we attempt to understand what is beyond our understanding.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


"There is indeed a force devoted to enticing us into various pleasures that are (or once were) in our genetic interests but do not bring long-term happiness to us and may bring great suffering to others. You could call that force the ghost of natural selection. More concretely, you could call it our genes (some of our genes, at least). If it will help to actually use the word evil, there's no reason not to."

Intolerance and Bigotry

"There may have been a time when it was commonly in the interests of political leaders to stoke their people's intolerance and bigotry to the point of international strife. This time is passing."

Friday, July 2, 2010


"In some respects, Deuteronomy reads like a modern document. Had it been implemented, the reformers' program would have included the establishment of a secular sphere and an independent judiciary separate from the cult; a constitutional monarchy, which made the king subject to the Torah like any other citizen; and a centralized state with a single, national shrine. The reformers also rationalized Israelite theology to rid it of superstitious mythology. You could not manipulate God by sacrifice, and God certainly did not live in his temple, which instead of being a scared "center, as of old, was merely a house of prayer.

But a rational, secular ideology is not necessarily any more tolerant than a mythical one. The Deuteronomists' reform revealed the greatest danger of idolatry. In making their national God, now the only symbol of the divine, endorse the national will, they had crafted a god in their own image. In the past, Marduk's power had always been challenged by Tiamat's, Baal's by Mot's. For J and E, the divine was so ambiguous that it was impossible to imagine that Yahweh was infallibly on your side or to predict what he would do next. But the Deuteronomists had no doubt that they knew exactly what Yahweh desired and felt it a sacred duty to destroy anything that seemed to oppose his/their interests. When something inherently finite -- an image, an ideology, or a polity -- is invested with ultimate value, its devotees feel obliged to eliminate any rival claimant, because there can be only one absolute. The type of destruction described by the Deuteronomists is an infallible indication that a sacred symbol has become idolatrous."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Everything About Literature

“Everyone agreed that Clevinger was certain to go far in the academic world. In short, Clevinger was one of those people with lots of intelligence and no brains, and everyone knew it except those who soon found it out. . . .It was impossible to go to a movie with him without getting involved afterward in a discussion on empathy, Aristotle, universals, messages and the obligations of the cinema as an art form in a materialistic society. Girls he took to the theater had to wait until the first intermission to find out from him whether or not they were seeing a good or a bad play, and then found out at once. He was a militant idealist who crusaded against racial bigotry by growing faint in its presence. He knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

High Treason of the Full Moon

(contra Richard Dawkins in a variation on a popular tune)

How can I tell you how I feel when I don't know?
Words have no meaning in a language from so long ago.

Are you the uncreated guide
Or songs of children who have died?
Is it love or is it pride
That needs an art it knows has lied?

Tonight, I dare define
Your face as one divine
The moon is something more than just its glow.

Save us both some time
Just give me a sign
Give me something more than just a show.

Now that an age draws to an end you cannot leave me.
I was not made to believe in something I can’t see.

You must have a face
We cannot embrace
A cosmic plan of transcendental grace.

Thus we apprehend
The universal trend
The larger purpose in what we intend.

Just as the moon directs the tide
There is a light that is our guide
And what the stars cannot provide
Is left for mortals to decide.

Here is the proof that I propose:
Before the moon from earth arose
It held a secret to disclose
Stranger than we can suppose.

Truth Fades Like Beauty

No timeless treasure wrought bright and cold
Truth fades like beauty, more leaf than gold.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010



"Jewish exegesis would be called midrash, which derives from the verb darash, "to search," "investigate," "to go in pursuit of something" as yet undiscovered."

And They Laugh

"I have a friend who has a test for the best science questions. You're sitting around at the observatory, ready to start your observing, and you tell the other scientists what you're doing, and they laugh, and that's how you know you have a great program, because it's not something that everybody else is doing."

Anne Kinney, director of the Astronomy and Physics Division in the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C, in the television series, The Planets, episode "Our Destiny."

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Advantages of Ambiguity

Ambiguity is underrated. It is often more valuable than precision. Nature is an economizer, adapting existing structures in novel ways. Very precise adaptations with no other uses are a sure-fire path to extinction in a world of perpetual change. Language that is too precise, that never changes spelling, meaning, or pronunciation, has all the excitement of a life insurance contract or a will.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

To Go One's Own Way


"In a pattern that would be repeated in later secular states, inquisitors sought out dissidents and forced them to abjure their "heresy," a word deriving from the Greek airesis, "to go one's own way."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Look to the End

"Look to the end, no matter what it is you are considering. Often enough God gives a man a glimpse of happiness, and then utterly ruins him."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Everything is Water

"Everything is water and the world is full of gods."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

First Origin of This Creation

"He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not."

The Rig Veda/Mandala 1/Hymn 121

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Saints and Devils

"The scientist is our contemporary saint, when he is not our contemporary devil. Not that there is much difference between the two when we observe how we use saints and devils."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

If I Was Made for Art

S' io nacqui a quella nè sordo nè cieco,
Proporzionato a chi 'l cor m' arde e fura,
Colpa è di chi m' ha destinato al foco

If I was made for art, from childhood given
A prey for burning beauty to devour,
I blame the mistress I was born to serve.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Misleading Notes to Myself

Markets are like wives: they tell you what you need to know, but you don't always like what you hear.


There are many fine and worthwhile things beyond the comprehension of individually articulated reason. Beyond the mind of any one man there are the minds of all.


Creativity does not begin with logically solving a problem; it begins with an inspired solution.


Life has two parts. The first is finding what you love and learning how to love it. The second is learning how to let it go.


Who does not hope for a life after death? Only those who believe that love is never misunderstood in this one.


Entrepreneurs are the deviants hiding in the closets at business schools.


Rast's Law: Every successful business eventually turns into the department of motor vehicles. Then it dies the death that it deserves.


When one animal meets another, it has one of only four instinctive reactions: kill it, cooperate with it, ignore it, or flee it. Consider it a measure of human progress that we are at least more likely to oppose those we meet than we are to kill them.


Much to the dismay of all sorcerers and an uncomfortably large number of scientists, human invention is not formulaic.


One life always depends upon the lives of others. You may obtain what you need from others by force, fraud, aid, or trade, but if you successfully use force or fraud, you will create the social condition where you must constantly seek a more clever fraud or a more effective force when you aim to improve your standard of living. In other words, you will enter into an arms race of force and fraud with other self-serving bullies and liars, a pact of social suicide.


Art is religion without divinity. Religion is art with the divine. Why do people go to museums? For the same reasons people used to go to church.


Three things you should acquire in an education, regardless of major:
1. The ability to think logically.
2. The ability to present your ideas well, in writing and orally.
3. The ability to calculate.


Even our most beautiful words are poor clothes for God. We are like dogs barking at the moon, inspired by what we see and very proud of the sounds we make.


Although we would not choose it, it is our struggle that makes us most fully what we are.


We make a serious mistake when we try to turn one kind of knowledge into another. Prices are like words: they are not scientific constants and cannot be managed as you would manage temperature, melting points, or atomic weights.


Accounting is more language than math. Contrary to what many people expect of accounting, it does not offer us a world of unchanging facts. It offers us a reliable but only temporary and largely metaphorical way of describing reality.

Friday, April 2, 2010

You Belong on Bull Street

One man has many beginnings
One of mine is here
My parents married at the manse of Centennial ARP.

They were not doctrinaire
They were in love.

Love does not worry about the institutes of the Christian religion
Love reconciles all contradictions
At least until the lovers learn
That love is the greatest contradiction of them all.

Reasonable people aren’t supposed to contradict themselves.
Good luck with that.

At one end of Bull Street
There stands a public university
At the other, a lunatic asylum
And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference
Or know which way love comes from
Or know which way it might go.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Root of Knowledge

"There are many gifts that are unique in man; but at the centre of them all, the root from which all knowledge grows, lies the ability to draw conclusions from what we see."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Comet is an Ancient Fear

This long-haired star ruined men and nations;
Drove women mad; deformed children;
Filled all the world with perturbations.

It was the thick smoke of human sin
Burnt before the face of God;
Or the flash of the Devil's grin.

When Halley said this dirty clod
Of ice would always reappear
On its astral promenade,

The comet's nature wasn't clear.
Even science, blessed with observation,
Found poison in the comet's rear.

A comet is an ancient fear,
A remnant of creation,
Trapped by the presence of a star
In eccentric isolation.

Second Place in the Financial Times "Sky Paths" literary competition, 1986

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rats, Mules, Cats, Dogs, and Horses

"You were born too late to be acquainted with mules and so comprehend the startling, the even shocking, import of this statement. A mule which will gallop for a half-mile in the single direction elected by its rider even one time becomes a neighborhood legend; one that will do it consistently time after time is an incredible phenomenon. Because, unlike a horse, a mule is far too intelligent to break its heart for glory running round the rim of a mile-long saucer. In fact, I rate mules second only to rats in intelligence, the mule followed in order by cats, dogs, and horses last -- assuming of course that you accept my definition of intelligence: which is the ability to cope with environment: which means to accept environment yet still retain at least something of personal liberty.

The rat of course I rate first. he lives in your house without helping you to buy it or build it or repair it or keep the taxes paid; he eats what you eat without helping you raise it or buy it or even hand it into the house; you cannot get rid of him; were he not a cannibal, he would long since have inherited the earth. The cat is third, with some of the same qualities but a weaker, punier creature; he neither toils nor spins, he is a parasite on you but he does not love you; he would die, cease to exist, vanish from the earth (I mean, in his so-called domestic form) but so far he has not had to. (There is the fable, Chinese I think, literary I am sure: of a period on earth when the dominant creatures were cats: who after ages of trying to cope with the anguishes of mortality -- famine, plague, war, injustice, folly, greed -- in a word, civilised government -- convened a congress of the wisest cat philosophers to see if anything could be done: who after long deliberation agreed that the dilemma, the problems themselves were insoluble and the only practical solution was to give it up, relinquish, abdicate, by selecting from among the lesser creatures a species, race optimistic enough to believe that the mortal predicament could be solved and ignorant enough never to learn better. Which is why the cat lives with you, is completely dependent on you for food and shelter but lifts no paw for you and loves you not; in a word, why your cat looks at you the way it does.)

The dog I rate fourth. He is courageous, faithful, monogamous in his devotion; he is your parasite, too: his failure (as compared to the cat) is that he will work for you -- I mean, willingly, gladly, ape any trick, no matter how silly, just to please you, for a pat on the head; as sound and first-rate a parasite as any, his failure is that he is a sycophant, believing that he has to show gratitude also; he will debase and violate his own dignity for your amusement: he fawns in return for a kick, he will give his life for you in battle and grieve himself to starvation over your bones. The horse I rate last. A creature capable of but one idea at a time, his strongest quality is timidity and fear. He can be tricked and cajoled by a child into breaking his limbs or his heart too in running too far too fast or jumping tings too wide or hard or high: he will eat himself to death if not guarded like a baby; if he had only one gram of the intelligence of the most backward rat, he would be the rider.

The mule I rate second. But second only because you can make him work for you. But that too only within his own rigid self-set regulations. He will not permit himself to eat too much. He will draw a wagon or a plow, but he will not run a race. he will not try to jump anything he does not indubitably know beforehand he can jump; he will not enter any place unless he knows of his own knowledge what is on the other side; he will work for you patiently for ten years for the chance to kick you once. In a word, free of the obligations of ancestry and the responsibilities of posterity, he has conquered not only life but death too and hence is immortal; were he to vanish from the earth today, the same chanceful biological combination which produced him yesterday would produce him a thousand years hence, unaltered, unchanged, incorrigible still within the limitations which he himself had proved and tested; still free, still coping."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Man Alone

"Man is not the most majestic of the creatures. Long before the mammals even, the dinosaurs were far more splendid. But he has what no other animal possesses, a jig-saw of faculties which alone, over three thousand million years of life, make him creative. Every animal leaves traces of what it was; man alone leaves traces of what he created."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Hard Facts of Life

"I'm sure you have often noticed how ignorant people beyond thirty or forty are. I don't mean forgetful. That's specious and easy, too easy to say Oh papa (or grandpa) or mama (or gradma), they're just old; they have forgotten. Because there are some things, some of the hard facts of life, that you don't forget, no matter how old you are. There is a ditch, a chasm; as a boy you crossed it on a footlog. You come creeping and doddering back at thirty-five or forty and the footlog is gone; you may not even remember the footlog but at least you don't step out onto that empty gravity that footlog once spanned."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Nothing is Ever Lost

"Nothing is ever forgotten. Nothing is ever lost. It's too valuable."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The wind that makes a dune
will take the dune away.

A mountain range of sand
can't will the sand to stay.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Se Débrouiller

And yet the PLONGEURS, low as they are, also have a kind of pride. It is the pride of the drudge--the man who is equal to no matter what quantity of work. At that level, the mere power to go on working like an ox is about the only virtue attainable. DEBROUILLARD is what every PLONGEUR wants to be called. A DEBROUILLARD is a man who, even when he is told to do the impossible, will SE DEBROUILLER--get it done somehow. One of the kitchen PLONGEURS at the Hotel X, a German, was well known as a DEBROUILLARD. One night an English lord came to the hotel, and the waiters were in despair, for the lord had asked for peaches, and there were none in stock; it was late at night, and the shops would be shut. 'Leave it to me,' said the German. He went out, and in ten minutes he was back with four peaches. He had gone into a neighbouring restaurant and stolen them. That is what is meant by a DEBROUILLARD. The English lord paid for the peaches at twenty francs each.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Wind that Makes a Dune

The wind that makes a dune will blow the dune away.

The Nature of Work

The thing that would astonish anyone coming for the first time into the service quarters of a hotel would be the fearful noise and disorder during the rush hours. It is something so different from the steady work in a shop or a factory that it looks at first sight like mere bad management. But it is really quite unavoidable, and for this reason. Hotel work is not particularly hard, but by its nature it comes in rushes and cannot be economized. You cannot, for instance, grill a steak two hours before it is wanted; you have to wait till the last moment, by which time a mass of
other work has accumulated, and then do it all together, in frantic haste. The result is that at mealtimes everyone is doing two men's work, which is impossible without noise and quarrelling. Indeed the quarrels are a necessary part of the process, for the pace would never be kept up if everyone did not accuse everyone else of idling. It was for this reason that during the rush hours the whole staff raged and cursed like demons. At those times there was scarcely a verb in the hotel except FOUTRE. A girl in the bakery, aged sixteen, used oaths that would have defeated a cabman.
(Did not Hamlet say 'cursing like a scullion'? No doubt Shakespeare had watched scullions at work.) But we are not losing our heads and wasting time; we were just stimulating one another for the effort of packing four hours' work into two hours.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Never Be Sorry for a Waiter

The moral is, never be sorry for a waiter. Sometimes when you sit in a restaurant, still stuffing yourself half an hour after closing time, you feel that the tired waiter at your side must surely be despising you. But he is not. He is not thinking as he looks at you, 'What an overfed lout'; he is thinking, 'One day, when I have saved enough money, I shall be able to imitate that man.' He is ministering to a kind of pleasure he thoroughly understands and admires. And that is why waiters are seldom Socialists, have no effective trade union, and will work twelve hours a day--they
work fifteen hours, seven days a week, in many cafes. They are snobs, and they find the servile nature of their work rather congenial.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


'Me? But I don't know anything about politics.'

'MERDE! Neither do they. Who DOES know anything about politics? It's easy. All you have to do is to copy it out of the English papers. Isn't there a Paris DAILY MAIL? Copy it from that.'

'But the DAILY MAIL is a Conservative paper. They loathe the Communists.'

'Well, say the opposite of what the DAILY MAIL says, then you can't be wrong.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

If You Have a Chessboard

It was a saying of his that the rules of chess are the same as the rules of love and war, and that if you can win at one you can win at the others. But he also said that if you have a chessboard you do not mind being hungry, which was certainly not true in my case.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Down and Out

"And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs--and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Naked and Sober

After they invented clothing, Adam and Eve must have invented alcohol. Being naked and sober might be a tolerable way to live in a perfect world, but in this one it is pure misery.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Roger Williams on God

"God is too large to be housed under one roof."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

First Contact With Poverty

It is altogether curious, your first contact with poverty. You have thought so much about poverty--it is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it, is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring. It is the peculiar LOWNESS of poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.

You discover, for instance, the secrecy attaching to poverty. At a sudden stroke you have been reduced to an income of six francs a day. But of course you dare not admit it--you have got to pretend that you are living quite as usual. From the start it tangles you in a net of lies, and even with the lies you can hardly manage it. You stop sending clothes to the laundry, and the laundress catches you in the street and asks you why; you mumble something, and she, thinking you are sending the clothes elsewhere, is your enemy for life. The tobacconist keeps asking why you have cut down your smoking. There are letters you want to answer, and cannot, because stamps are too expensive. And then there are your meals-- meals are the worst difficulty of all. Every day at meal-times you go out, ostensibly to a restaurant, and loaf an hour in the Luxembourg Gardens, watching the pigeons. Afterwards you smuggle your food home in your pockets. Your food is bread and margarine, or bread and wine, and even the nature of the food is governed by lies. You have to buy rye bread instead of household bread, because the rye loaves, though dearer, are round and can be smuggled in your pockets. This wastes you a franc a day. Sometimes, to keep up appearances,you have to spend sixty centimes on a drink, and go correspondingly short of food. Your linen gets filthy, and you run out of soap and razor-blades. Your hair wants cutting,and you try to cut it yourself, with such fearful results that you have to go to the barber after all, and spend the equivalent of a day's food. All day you arc telling lies, and expensive lies.

You discover the extreme precariousness of your six francs a day. Mean disasters happen and rob you of food. You have spent your last eighty centimes on half a litre of milk, and are boiling it over the spirit lamp. While it boils a bug runs down your forearm; you give the bug a flick with your nail, and it falls, plop! straight into the milk. There is nothing for it but to throw the milk away and go foodless.

You go to the baker's to buy a pound of bread, and you wait while the girl cuts a pound for another customer. She is clumsy, and cuts more than a pound. 'PARDON, MONSIEUR,' she says, 'I suppose you don't mind paying two sous extra?' Bread is a franc a pound, and you have exactly a franc. When you think that you too might be asked to pay two sous extra, and would have to confess that you could not, you bolt in panic. It is hours before you dare venture into a baker's shop again.

You go to the greengrocer's to spend a franc on a kilogram of potatoes. But one of the pieces that make up the franc is a Belgian piece, and the shopman refuses it. You slink out of the shop, and can never go there again.

You have strayed into a respectable quarter, and you see a prosperous friend coming. To avoid him you dodge into the nearest cafe. Once in the cafe you must buy something, so you spend your last fifty centimes on a glass of black coffee with a dead fly in it. Once could multiply these disasters by the hundred. They are part of the process of being hard up.

You discover what it is like to be hungry. With bread and margarine in your belly, you go out and look into the shop windows. Everywhere there is food insulting you in huge, wasteful piles; whole dead pigs, baskets of hot loaves, great yellow blocks of butter, strings of sausages, mountains of potatoes, vast Gruyere cheeses like grindstones. A snivelling self-pity comes over you at the sight of so much food. You plan to grab a loaf and run, swallowing it before they catch you; and you refrain, from pure funk.

You discover the boredom which is inseparable from poverty; the times when you have nothing to do and, being underfed, can interest yourself in nothing. For half a day at a time you lie on your bed, feeling like the JEUNE SQUELETTE in Baudelaire's poem. Only food could rouse you. You discover that a man who has gone even a week on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a belly with a few accessory organs

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Parable of the Talents

24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
26 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Little Tale

"A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. I know this from experience. He has no clear idea of his story; in fact he has no story. He merely has some people in his mind, and an incident or two, also a locality, and he trusts he can plunge those people into those incidents with interesting results. So he goes to work. To write a novel? No -- that is a thought which comes later; in the beginning he is only proposing to tell a little tale, a very little tale, a six-page tale. But as it is a tale which he is not acquainted with, and can only find out what it is by listening as it goes along telling itself, it is more than apt to go on and on and on till it spreads itself into a book. I know about this, because it has happened to me so many times...

Would the reader care to know something about the story which I pulled out? He has been told many a time how the born- and-trained novelist works; won't he let me round and complete his knowledge by telling him how the jackleg does it?"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Our Worst Suffering

It is only in our worst suffering that we best learn how to live.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Poets of a Stronger Age

"--Has any one at the end of the nineteenth century any distinct notion of what poets of a stronger age understood by the word inspiration? If not, I will describe it. If one had the smallest vestige of superstition in one, it would hardly be possible to set aside completely the idea that one is the mere incarnation, mouthpiece or medium of an almighty power. The idea of revelation in the sense that something becomes suddenly visible and audible with indescribable certainty and accuracy, which profoundly convulses and upsets one--describes simply the matter of fact. One hears-- one does not seek; one takes--one does not ask who gives: a thought suddenly flashes up like lightning, it comes with necessity, unhesitatingly--I have never had any choice in the matter. There is an ecstasy such that the immense strain of it is sometimes relaxed by a flood of tears, along with which one's steps either rush or involuntarily lag, alternately. There is the feeling that one is completely out of hand, with the very distinct consciousness of an endless number of fine thrills and quiverings to the very toes;--there is a depth of happiness in which the painfullest and gloomiest do not operate as antitheses, but as conditioned, as demanded in the sense of necessary shades of colour in such an overflow of light. There is an instinct for rhythmic relations which embraces wide areas of forms (length, the need of a wide-embracing rhythm, is almost the measure of the force of an inspiration, a sort of counterpart to its pressure and tension). Everything happens quite involuntarily, as if in a tempestuous outburst of freedom, of absoluteness, of power and divinity. The involuntariness of the figures and similes is the most remarkable thing; one loses all perception of what constitutes the figure and what constitutes the simile; everything seems to present itself as the readiest, the correctest and the simplest means of expression. It actually seems, to use one of Zarathustra's own phrases, as if all things came unto one, and would fain be similes: 'Here do all things come caressingly to thy talk and flatter thee, for they want to ride upon thy back. On every simile dost thou here ride to every truth. Here fly open unto thee all being's words and word-cabinets; here all being wanteth to become words, here all becoming wanteth to learn of thee how to talk.' This is MY experience of inspiration. I do not doubt but that one would have to go back thousands of years in order to find some one who could say to me: It is mine also!--"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Slavery

The people who escaped a great darkness will curse a candle because it is not a sun.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Does Europe Owe the Jews?

#250 "What does Europe owe the Jews? All sorts of things, good and bad, and above all one that is at the same time among the best and the worst: the grand style in morality, the terror and majesty of infinite demands, infinite meanings, the whole romanticism and grandeur of being worthy of raising moral questions and as a result precisely the most attractive, most awkward, and most exquisite parts of those plays of colours and enticements to life, whose afterglow these days makes the sky of our European culture glow in its evening light perhaps as it burns itself out. Among the spectators and philosophers, we artists are grateful to the Jews for that."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Platonism for the People

"Christianity is Platonism for the people."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Old King Log

The frog-pool wanted a king.
Jove sent them Old King Log.
I have been as deaf and blind and wooden as a log.

The frog-pool wanted a king.
Let Jove now send them Young King Stork.
Caligula's chief fault: his stork-reign was too brief.

My chief fault: I have been far too benevolent.
I repaired the ruin my predecessors spread.
I reconciled Rome and the world to monarchy again.

Rome is fated to bow to another Caesar.
Let him be mad, bloody, capricious, wasteful, lustful.
King Stork shall prove again the nature of kings.

By dulling the blade of tyranny I fell into great error.
By whetting the same blade I might redeem that error.
Violent disorders call for violent remedies.

Yet I am, I must remember, Old King Log.
I shall float inertly in the stagnant pool.
Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Kind of God

A man will find the kind of God he needs the most.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Light of the Furthest Stars

#285 "The greatest events and thoughts--the greatest thoughts, however, are the greatest events--are longest in being comprehended: the generations which are contemporary with them do not experience such events--they live past them. Something happens there as in the realm of stars. The light of the furthest stars is longest in reaching man; and before it has arrived man denies--that there are stars there. "How many centuries does a mind require to be understood?"--that is also a standard, one also makes a gradation of rank and an etiquette therewith, such as is necessary for mind and for star."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What You Have to Know

#277 (paraphrased) You have to actually build a house in order to learn everything you have to know before you start.

The Abyss

#146 "He who fights with monsters should take care that he himself does not become a monster. When you stare into the abyss, the abyss also stares into you."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Harmful and Dangerous Truth

#39 "Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the "truth" one could still barely endure or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified. But there is no doubt at all that the evil and unhappy are more favored when it comes to the discovery of certain parts of truth, and that the probability of their success here is greater - not to speak of the evil who are happy, a species the moralists bury in silence."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Reading

I envy those who can read a book through once and get it. I have to read a book at least twice, and sometimes more than that, to feel like I have entered into the mind of and understand the intentions of the author.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Long Secret Work

#32 "During the longest part of human history - so-called prehistorical times - the value or disvalue of an action was derived from its consequences. The action itself was considered as little as its origin. It was rather the way a distinction or disgrace still reaches back today from a child to its parents, in China: it was the retroactive force of success or failure that led men to think well or ill of an action. Let us call this period the pre-moral period of mankind: the imperative "know thyself!" was as yet unknown. In the last ten thousand years, however, one has reached the point, step by step, in a few large regions on the earth, where it is no longer the consequences but the origin of an action that one allows to decide its value. On the whole this is a great event which involves a considerable refinement of vision and standards; it is the unconscious aftereffect of the rule of aristocratic values and the faith in "descent" - the sign of a period that one may call moral in the narrower sense. It involves the first attempt at self-knowledge. Instead of the consequences, the origin: indeed a reversal of perspective! Surely, a reversal achieved only after long struggles and vacillations. To be sure, a calamitous new superstition, an odd narrowness of interpretation, thus become dominant: the origin of an action was interpreted in the most definite sense as origin in an intention; one came to agree that the value of an action lay in the value of the intention. The intention as the whole origin and prehistory of an action - almost to the present day this prejudice dominated moral praise, blame, judgment, and philosophy on earth. But today - shouldn't we have reached the necessity of once more resolving on a reversal and fundamental shift in values, owing to another self-examination of man, another growth in profundity? Don't we stand at the threshold of a period which should be designated negatively, to begin with, as extra-moral? After all, today at least we immoralists have the suspicion that the decisive value of an action lies precisely in what is unintentional in it, while everything about it that is intentional, everything about it that can be seen, known, "conscious," still belongs to its surface and skin - which, like every skin, betrays something but conceals even more. In short, we believe that the intention is merely a sign and symptom that still requires interpretation - moreover, a sign that means too much and therefore, taken by itself alone, almost nothing. We believe that morality in the traditional sense, the morality of intentions, was a prejudice, precipitate and perhaps provisional - something on the order of astrology and alchemy - but in any case something that must be overcome. The overcoming of morality, in a certain sense even the self-overcoming of morality - let this be the name for that long secret work which has been saved up for the finest and most honest, also the most malicious, consciences of today, as living touchstones of the soul."

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Beauty is everywhere a clue to a violent past.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Foul Smell

#30. "There are books that have opposite values for soul and health, depending on whether the lower soul, the lower vitality, or the higher and more vigorous ones turn to them: in the former case, these books are dangerous and lead to crumbling and disintegration; in the latter, heralds' cries that call the bravest to their courage. Books for all the world are always foul-smelling books: the smell of small people clings to them. Where the people eat and drink, even where they venerate, it usually stinks. One should not go to church if one wants to breathe pure air."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Such Beings As We Are

#3. "Behind all logic and its seeming sovereignty of movement, too, there stand valuations or, more clearly, physiological demands for the preservation of a certain type of life. For example, that the definite should be worth more than the indefinite, and mere appearance worth less than 'truth' -- such estimates might be, in spite of their regulative importance for us, nevertheless mere foreground estimates, a certain kind of niaiserie which may be necessary for the preservation of just such beings as we are. Supposing, that is, that not just man is the 'measure of things.'"

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gratitude and Cleanliness

#74 "A man with genius is unbearable if he does not also have at least two other things: gratitude and cleanliness."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Meaning Without Words

The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.'

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Last Words of Socrates

"Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Labor Theory of Value

Parking on Main Street: $1.
Admission to the Columbia Museum of Art: $10.
Seeing the Nativity by Sandro Botticelli: Priceless.

Botticelli died in 1510.
He stopped painting that same year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Religion and Entertainment

What if Emerson got it backward? What if the entertainment of one age really becomes the religion of the next?

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Deuteronomists

"Finally, the Deuteronomists stripped the king of his traditional powers. He was no longer a sacred figure. In an astonishing departure from Near Eastern custom, the Deuteronomists drastically limited the sovereign's prerogatives. His only duty was to read the written torah, 'diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandments, either to the right or the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.' The king was no longer the son of God, the special servant of Yahweh, or a member of the divine council. He had no special privileges but, like his people, was subject to the law. How could the Deuteronomists justify these changes, which overturned centuries of sacred tradition? We do not know exactly who the Deuteronomists were. The story of the discovery of the scroll suggests that they included priests, prophets, and scribes. Their movement could have originated in the northern kingdom and come south to Judah after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in 722. They may also reflect the views of the disenfrancised am ha-aretz, who had put Josiah on the throne."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sleep of Reason

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

The sleep of reason produces monsters.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You Shout

" the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures..."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Truth Does Not Change

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive."

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Beautiful and Humane Occupation

"To the captain he is faithful like a friend and attentive like a son, with the patience of Job, the unselfish devotion of a woman, and the jollity of a boon companion. Later on the bill is sent in. It is a beautiful and humane occupation. Therefore good water-clerks are scarce."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

La Tendre Indifférence du Monde

Comme si cette grande colère m'avait purgé du mal, vidé d'éspoir, devant cette nuit chargée de signes et d'étoiles, je m'ouvrais pour la première fois à la tendre indifférence du monde.

"It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

La Porte du Malheur

J’ai secoué la sueur et le soleil. J’ai compris que j’avais détruit l’équilibre du jour, le silence exceptionnel d’une plage où j’avais été heureux. Alors, j’ai tiré encore quatre fois sur un corps inerte où les balles s’enfonçaient sans qu’il y parût. Et c’était comme quatre coups brefs que je frappais sur la porte du malheur.

"I shook off the sweat and sun. I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I’d been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Inferno, Canto XXXIV

E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.

(Italian audio file)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Inferno, Canto XI

D'ogne malizia, ch'odio in cielo acquista,
ingiuria è 'l fine, ed ogne fin cotale
o con forza o con frode altrui contrista.

Every evil deed despised in Heaven
has as its end injustice. Each such end
harms someone else through either force or fraud.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Inferno, Canto I

Nel mezzo del camin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
For I had lost the right path.

(Italian audio file)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The One True Problem of Philosophy

Il n'y a qu'un problème philosophique vraiment sérieux : c'est le suicide. Juger que la vie vaut ou ne vaut pas la peine d'être vécue, c'est répondre à la question fondamentale de la philosophie. Le reste, si le monde a trois dimensions, si l'esprit a neuf ou douze catégories, vient ensuite. Ce sont des jeux ; il faut d'abord répondre.

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Queerer Than We Can Suppose

"My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of or can be dreamed of in any philosophy."

J. B. S. Haldane, 1892 - 1964

Monday, August 31, 2009

Simple Child of Nature

"Near by is an interesting ruin -- the meagre remains of an ancient heathen temple -- a place where human sacrifices were offered up in those old bygone days when the simple child of nature, yielding momentarily to sin when sorely tempted, acknowledged his error when calm reflection had shown it him, and came forward with noble frankness and offered up his grandmother as an atoning sacrifice -- in those old days when the luckless sinner could keep on cleansing his conscience and achieving periodical happiness as long as his relations held out; long, long before the missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make them permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there; and showed the poor native how dreary a place perdition is and what unnecessarily liberal facilities there are for going to it; showed him how, in his ignorance he had gone and fooled away all his kinfolks to no purpose; showed him what rapture it is to work all day long for fifty cents to buy food for next day with, as compared with fishing for pastime and lolling in the shade through eternal Summer, and eating of the bounty that nobody labored to provide but Nature. How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell!"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fraudulent History

"But Admiral, in saying that this was the first stone thrown, and that this precipitated the war, you have overlooked a circumstance which you are perfectly familiar with, but which has escaped your memory. Now I grant you that what you have stated is correct in every detail--to wit: that on the 16th of October, 1860, two Massachusetts clergymen, named Waite and Granger, went in disguise to the house of John Moody, in Rockport, at dead of night, and dragged forth two southern women and their two little children, and after tarring and feathering them conveyed them to Boston and burned them alive in the State House square; and I also grant your proposition that this deed is what led to the secession of South Carolina on the 20th of December following. Very well." [Here the company were pleasantly surprised to hear Williams proceed to come back at the Admiral with his own invincible weapon--clean, pure, manufactured history, without a word of truth in it.] "Very well, I say. But Admiral, why overlook the Willis and Morgan case in South Carolina? You are too well informed a man not to know all about that circumstance. Your arguments and your conversations have shown you to be intimately conversant with every detail of this national quarrel. You develop matters of history every day that show plainly that you are no smatterer in it, content to nibble about the surface, but a man who has searched the depths and possessed yourself of everything that has a bearing upon the great question. Therefore, let me just recall to your mind that Willis and Morgan case--though I see by your face that the whole thing is already passing through your memory at this moment. On the 12th of August, 1860, two months before the Waite and Granger affair, two South Carolina clergymen, named John H. Morgan and Winthrop L. Willis, one a Methodist and the other an Old School Baptist, disguised themselves, and went at midnight to the house of a planter named Thompson--Archibald F. Thompson, Vice President under Thomas Jefferson,--and took thence, at midnight, his widowed aunt, (a Northern woman,) and her adopted child, an orphan--named Mortimer Highie, afflicted with epilepsy and suffering at the time from white swelling on one of his legs, and compelled to walk on crutches in consequence; and the two ministers, in spite of the pleadings of the victims, dragged them to the bush, tarred and feathered them, and afterward burned them at the stake in the city of Charleston. You remember perfectly well what a stir it made; you remember perfectly well that even the Charleston Courier stigmatized the act as being unpleasant, of questionable propriety, and scarcely justifiable, and likewise that it would not be matter of surprise if retaliation ensued. And you remember also, that this thing was the cause of the Massachusetts outrage. Who, indeed, were the two Massachusetts ministers? and who were the two Southern women they burned? I do not need to remind you, Admiral, with your intimate knowledge of history, that Waite was the nephew of the
woman burned in Charleston; that Granger was her cousin in the second degree, and that the woman they burned in Boston was the wife of John H. Morgan, and the still loved but divorced wife of Winthrop L. Willis. Now, Admiral, it is only fair that you should acknowledge that the first provocation came from the Southern preachers and that the Northern ones were justified in retaliating. In your arguments you never yet have shown the least disposition to withhold a just verdict or be in anywise unfair, when authoritative history condemned your position, and therefore I have no hesitation in asking you to take the original blame from the Massachusetts ministers, in this matter, and transfer it to the South Carolina clergymen where it justly belongs."

The Admiral was conquered. This sweet spoken creature who swallowed his fraudulent history as if it were the bread of life; basked in his furious blasphemy as if it were generous sunshine; found only calm, even-handed justice in his rampart partisanship; and flooded him with invented history so sugarcoated with flattery and deference that there was no rejecting it, was "too many" for him. He stammered some awkward, profane sentences about the-----Willis and Morgan business having escaped his memory, but that he "remembered it now," and then, under pretence of giving Fan some medicine for an imaginary cough, drew out of the battle and went away, a vanquished man. Then cheers and laughter went up, and Williams, the ship's benefactor was a hero. The news went about the vessel, champagne was ordered, and enthusiastic reception instituted in the smoking room, and everybody flocked thither to shake hands with the conqueror. The wheelman said afterward, that the Admiral stood up behind the pilot house and "ripped and cursed all to himself" till he loosened the smokestack guys and becalmed the mainsail.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Buck Fanshaw

There was a grand time over Buck Fanshaw when he died. He was a representative citizen. He had "killed his man"--not in his own quarrel, it is true, but in defence of a stranger unfairly beset by numbers. He had kept a sumptuous saloon. He had been the proprietor of a dashing helpmeet whom he could have discarded without the formality of a divorce. He had held a high position in the fire department and been a very Warwick in politics. When he died there was great lamentation throughout the town, but especially in the vast bottom-stratum of society.

On the inquest it was shown that Buck Fanshaw, in the delirium of a wasting typhoid fever, had taken arsenic, shot himself through the body, cut his throat, and jumped out of a four-story window and broken his neck--and after due deliberation, the jury, sad and tearful, but with intelligence unblinded by its sorrow, brought in a verdict of death "by the visitation of God." What could the world do without juries?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A True Face of God

"It could be that the Jesus Christians know is both an illusion and a true face of God.

And maybe, for that matter, worshiping a divinely sponsored illusion is about as close as people can get to seeing the face of God. Human beings are organic machines that are built by natural selection to deal with other organic machines. They can visualize other organic beings, understand other organic beings, and bestow love and gratitude on other organic beings. Understanding the divine, visualizing the divine, loving the divine--that would be a tall order for a mere human being."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Secret of Success

"And does the reader remember, a few pages back, the calculations, of a quoted correspondent, whereby the ore is to be mined and shipped all the way to England, the metals extracted, and the gold and silver contents received back by the miners as clear profit, the copper, antimony and other things in the ore being sufficient to pay all the expenses incurred? Everybody's head was full of such "calculations" as those-- such raving insanity, rather. Few people took work into their calculations--or outlay of money either; except the work and expenditures of other people.

We never touched our tunnel or our shaft again. Why? Because we judged that we had learned the real secret of success in silver mining--which was, not to mine the silver ourselves by the sweat of our brows and the labor of our hands, but to sell the ledges to the dull slaves of toil and let them do the mining!"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Die Lösung /The Solution

Die Lösung

Nach dem Aufstand des 17. Juni
Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands
In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen
Auf denen zu lesen war, daß das Volk
Das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
Und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
Zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
Löste das Volk auf und
Wählte ein anderes?

The Solution

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writer's Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dangerous Weapons

"I was armed to the teeth with a pitiful little Smith & Wesson's seven-shooter, which carried a ball like a homoeopathic pill,and it took the whole seven to make a dose for an adult. But I thought it was grand. It appeared to me to be a dangerous weapon. It only had one fault--you could not hit anything with it. One of our "conductors" practiced awhile on a cow with it, and as long as she stood still and behaved herself she was safe; but as soon as she went to moving about, and he got to shooting at other things, she came to grief. The Secretary had a small-sized Colt's revolver strapped around him for protection against the Indians, and to guard against accidents he carried it uncapped. Mr. George Bemis was dismally formidable. George Bemis was our fellow-traveler.

We had never seen him before. He wore in his belt an old original "Allen" revolver, such as irreverent people called a "pepper-box." Simply drawing the trigger back, cocked and fired the pistol. As the trigger came back, the hammer would begin to rise and the barrel to turn over, and presently down would drop the hammer, and away would speed the ball. To aim along the turning barrel and hit the thing aimed at was a feat which was probably never done with an "Allen" in the world. But George's was a reliable weapon, nevertheless, because, as one of the stage-drivers afterward said, "If she didn't get what she went after, she would fetch something else." And so she did. She went after a deuce of spades nailed against a tree, once, and fetched a mule standing about thirty yards to the left of it. Bemis did not want the mule; but the owner came out with a double-barreled shotgun and persuaded him to buy it, anyhow. It was a cheerful weapon--the "Allen." Sometimes all its six barrels would go off at once, and then there was no safe place in all the region round about, but behind it."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Never Stop Talking

"Unlike the Jews, the Greeks could never stop talking, and as is always the case with such people, their favorite subject was themselves."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Gods Themselves

"The results of human motivations and heavenly interventions make for preordained results, but preordained only in a way so complicated and with so many conflicting strands that no one but a seer or prophet could sort it all out beforehand and identify in the present the seeds of future results. This means that human beings -- and even to some extent the gods themselves -- are caught, like figures in a tapestry who cannot undo their thread, playing out their assigned roles of hero or king, loving mother or sexual prize, divine patron of this or that person or city, with only flickering insight into what result their character and needs will have upon the whole of the human enterprise."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Raise the Dead

"For me, the historian's principal task should be to raise the dead to life."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

History Must be Learned in Pieces

"History must be learned in pieces. This is partly because we have only pieces of the past -- shards, ostraca, palimpsets, crumbling codices with missing pages, newsreel clips, snatches of song, faces of iols whose bodies have long since turned to dust -- which give us glimpses of what has been but never the whole reality. How could they? We cannot encompass the whole reality even of the times in which we live. Human beings never know more than part, as 'through a glass darkly'; and all knowledge comes to us in pieces."

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Return of Spring

"Thus, by the four-month death each year of the goddess of springtime in her descent to the underworld, did winter enter the world. And when she returns from the dark realms she always strikes earthly beings with awe and smells somewhat of the grave."

Friday, August 7, 2009

For Such a Son

For such a son who would not sacrifice such a daughter!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Schilleresque Noble Hearts

That's how it always is with these Schilleresque noble hearts; till the last moment every goose is a swan with them, till the last moment, they hope for the best and will see nothing wrong, and although they have an inkling of the other side of the picture, yet they won't face the truth till they are forced to; the very thought of it makes them shiver; they thrust the truth away with both hands, until the man they deck out in false colours puts a fool's cap on them with his own hands.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Fortune All at Once

"But why, if you are so clever, do you lie here like a sack and have nothing to show for it? One time you used to go out, you say, to teach children. But why is it you do nothing now?"

"I am doing . . ." Raskolnikov began sullenly and reluctantly.

"What are you doing?"

"Work . . ."

"What sort of work?"

"I am thinking," he answered seriously after a pause.

Nastasya was overcome with a fit of laughter. She was given to laughter and when anything amused her, she laughed inaudibly, quivering and shaking all over till she felt ill.

"And have you made much money by your thinking?" she managed to articulate at last.

"One can't go out to give lessons without boots. And I'm sick of it."

"Don't quarrel with your bread and butter."

"They pay so little for lessons. What's the use of a few coppers?" he answered, reluctantly, as though replying to his own thought.

"And you want to get a fortune all at once?"

He looked at her strangely.

"Yes, I want a fortune," he answered firmly, after a brief pause.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Man in General

"And what if I am wrong," he cried suddenly after a moment's thought. "What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind--then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it's all as it should be."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tears and Tribulation

"Why am I to be pitied, you say? Yes! there's nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied! Crucify me, oh judge, crucify me but pity me! And then I will go of myself to be crucified, for it's not merry-making I seek but tears and tribulation!. . Do you suppose, you that sell, that this pint of yours has been sweet to me? It was tribulation I sought at the bottom of it, tears and tribulation, and have found it, and I have tasted it; but He will pity us Who has had pity on all men, Who has understood all men and all things, He is the One, He too is the judge. He will come in that day and He will ask: 'Where is the daughter who gave herself for her cross, consumptive step-mother and for the little children of another? Where is the daughter who had pity upon the filthy drunkard, her earthly father, undismayed by his beastliness?' And He will say, 'Come to me! I have already forgiven thee once. . . . I have forgiven thee once. . . . Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee for thou hast loved much. . . .' And he will forgive my Sonia, He will forgive, I know it . . . I felt it in my heart when I was with her just now! And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek. . . . And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. 'You too come forth,' He will say, 'Come forth ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!' And we shall all come forth, without shame and shall stand before him. And He will say unto us, 'Ye are swine, made in the Image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!' And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, 'Oh Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?' And He will say, 'This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.' And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before him . . . and we shall weep. . and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all! . . . and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even . . . she will understand. . . . Lord, Thy kingdom come!" And he sank down on the bench exhausted, and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

They Grieve Over Men

"Not on earth, but up yonder . . . they grieve over men, they weep, but they don't blame them, they don't blame them! But it hurts more, it hurts more when they don't blame!"

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Drink to Suffer

"That's why I drink too. I try to find sympathy and feeling in drink.. . I drink so that I may suffer twice as much!"

Friday, July 31, 2009

Forbidden by Science

"From compassion? But Mr. Lebeziatnikov who keeps up with modern ideas explained the other day that compassion is forbidden nowadays by science itself, and that that's what is done now in England, where there is political economy."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Men Are Most Afraid Of

"Hm . . . yes, all is in a man's hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that's an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most . . ."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Then and Now

THEN: "God explains everything, even evolution."

NOW:"Evolution explains everything, even God."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Our Descendants Will Complain

"Life has gotten dramatically better for almost everyone in the Western world during the past half-century, yet people are no happier. Centuries to come may see life better still, and happiness not increased."


"It is ours to decide what the future will hold. And if we decide well, the future may hold an ever-better life, about which our descendants will complain."

Art and Religion

"Like art, religion has been a way of containing feelings that might otherwise tear individuals and societies apart. Armstrong leans heavily on the distinction first made by the ancient Greeks between the realms of mythos and logos. Logos is "a pragmatic mode of thought that enables people to function effectively in the world"; it is what we rely on when organising society or planning a journey. However, logos has its limitations: "It cannot assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life's struggles." For this, there is the realm of mythos or myth, to which religion and art belong. Religion offers us moments of what Armstrong calls, using another Greek term, ekstasis, a stepping outside of the norm for the sake of release and consolation."

Review of The Case for God

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Case for God

"He is not good, divine, powerful or intelligent in any way that we can understand. We could not even say that God 'exists', because our concept of existence is too limited."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Not of Flesh, But of Bronze

"No, those men are not made so. The real Master to whom all is permitted storms Toulon, makes a massacre in Paris, forgets an army in Egypt, wastes half a million men in the Moscow expedition and gets off with a jest at Vilna. And altars are set up to him after his death, and so all is permitted. No, such people, it seems, are not of flesh but of bronze!"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Historical Living Process

“Listen, Rodion, and tell us your opinion. I want to hear it. I was fighting tooth and nail with them and wanted you to help me. I told them you were coming…It began with the socialist doctrine. You know their doctrine; crime is a protest against the abnormality of the social organization and nothing more, and nothing more; no other causes admitted!…”

“You are wrong there,” cried Porfiry Petrovitch; he was noticeably animated and kept laughing as he looked at Razumihin, which made him more excited than ever.

“Nothing is admitted,” Razumihin interrupted with heat.

“I am not wrong. I'll show you their pamphlets. Everything with them is ‘the influence of environment,’ and nothing else. Their favourite phrase! From which it follows that, if society is normally organized, all crime will cease at once, since there will be nothing to protest against and all men will become righteous in one instant. Human nature is not taken into account, it is excluded, it's not supposed to exist! They don't recognize that humanity, developing by a historical living process, will become at last a normal society, but they believe that a social system that has come out of some mathematical brain is going to organize all humanity at once and make it just and sinless in an instant, quicker than any living process! That's why they instinctively dislike history, ‘nothing but ugliness and stupidity in it,’ and they explain it all as stupidity! That's why they so dislike the living process of life; they don't want a living soul! The living soul demands life, the soul won't obey the rules of mechanics, the soul is an object of suspicion, the soul is reactionary! But what they want though it smells of death and can be made of India-rubber, at least is not alive, has no will, is servile and won't revolt! And it comes in the end to their reducing everything to the building of walls and the planning of rooms and passages in a phalanstery! The phalanstery is ready, indeed, but your human nature is not ready for the phalanstery—it wants life, it hasn't completed its vital process, it's too soon for the graveyard! You can't skip over nature by logic. Logic presupposes three possibilities, but there are millions! Cut away a million, and reduce it all to the question of comfort! That's the easiest solution of the problem! It's seductively clear and you musn't think about it. That's the great thing, you mustn't think! The whole secret of life in two pages of print!”