Life Itself is a Quotation

All the genuine, deep delight of life is in showing people the mud-pies you have made; and life is at its best when we confidingly recommend our mud-pies to each other’s sympathetic consideration.
~ J. M. Thorburn

  • Marat
    As I sat there in the Bastille
    for thirteen long years
    I learned
    that this is a world of bodies
    each body pulsing with a terrible power
    each body alone and racked with its own unrest
    In that loneliness
    marooned in a stone sea
    I heard lips whispering continually
    and felt all the time
    in the palms of my hands and in my skin
    touching and stroking
    Shut behind thirteen bolted doors
    my feet fettered
    I dreamed only
    of the orifices of the body
    put there
    so one may hook and twine oneself in them. ~ The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of The Marquis de Sade by Peter Weiss
  • If I could stand to see her crying,
    I would
    tell her not to care.
    When she learns of all your lying,
    Will she join you there?
    Country girl I think you’re pretty
    Got to make you understand
    Have no lovers in the city
    Let me be your country man
    Got to make you understand. ~ Neil Young (“Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)”)
  • Some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expell’d all human commerce, and left utterly abandon’d and disconsolate. Fain wou’d I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity… All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; tho’ such is my weakness, that i feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning. ~ ??
  • One’s condition on marijuana is always existential. One can feel the importance of each moment and how it is changing one. One feels one’s being, one becomes aware of the enormous apparatus of nothingness – the hum of a hi-fi set, the emptiness of a pointless interruption, one becomes aware of the war between each of us, how the nothingness in each of us seeks to attack the being of others, how our being in turn is attacked by the nothingness in others. ~ Norman Mailer
  • I won’t go so far as saying cannabis actively damaged my health, but it decimated my record collection. I mean that literally. About six months after discovering the devil weed, I traded in my Beatles LPs for the soundtrack album of The Harder They Come. ~ Toby Young
  • The drug [cannabis] is really quite a remarkably safe one for humans, although it really is quite a dangerous one for mice and they should not use it. ~ JWD Henderson, director of the American Bureau of Human Drugs, Health and Welfare
  • How can I tell you that I love you
    I love you, but I can’t think of right words to say,
    And I long to tell you that I’m always thinking of you,
    I’m always thinking of you,
    But my words just blow away, just blow away.
    It always ends up to one thing, honey,
    And I can’t think of right words to say.
    Wherever I am, girl, I’m always walking with you,
    I’m always walking with you, but I look and you’re not there,
    And whoever I’m with, I’m always, always talking to you,
    I’m always talking to you, and I’m sad that you can’t hear
    Sad that you can’t hear,
    It always ends up to one thing, honey,
    When I look, and you’re not there.
    I need to know you, need to feel my arms around you,
    To feel my arms surround you, like sea around a shore,
    Each night and day I pray in hope that I might find you,
    In hope that I might find you, because hearts can do no more,
    Can do no more. ~ Cat Stevens (“How Can I Tell You”)
  • Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ is painfully short and painfully beautiful. It’s like your grandfather coming back from the dead and hanging out with you for a minute and a half and then going away. It’s perfect, then it’s gone. ~ John Mayer
  • I can’t go on like this.
    That’s what you think.
    If we parted? That might be better for us.
    We’ll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
    And if he comes?
    Then we’ll be saved…
    Well? Shall we go?
    Pull on your trousers.
    Pull on your trousers.
    You want me to pull off my trousers?
    Pull ON your trousers.
    (realizing his trousers are down). True.
    He pulls his trousers up.
    Well? Shall we go?
    Yes, let’s go.
    They do not move.
    ~ Samuel Beckett (Waiting For Godot)
  • The three little pigs rejoiced that justice had triumphed and did a little dance around the corpse of the wolf. Their next step was to liberate their homeland. They gathered together a band of other pigs that had been forced off their lands. This new band of porcinistas attacked the resort complex with machine guns and rocket launchers and slaughtered the cruel wolf oppressors, sending a clear signal to the rest of the hemisphere not to meddle in their internal affairs. Then the pigs set up a model socialist democracy with free education, universal healthcare, and affordable housing for everyone. ~ ??
  • The earth laughs beneath my heavy feet
    At the blasphemy in my old jangly walk
    Steeple guide me to my heart and home
    The sun is out and up and down again
    I know I’ll make it, love can last forever
    Graceful swans of never topple to the earth
    And you can make it last, forever you
    You can make it last, forever you
    And for a moment I lose myself
    Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world
    I’ve journeyed here and there and back again
    But in the same old haunts I still find my friends
    Mysteries not ready to reveal
    Sympathies I’m ready to return
    I’ll make the effort, love can last forever
    Graceful swans of never topple to the earth
    Tomorrow’s just an excuse
    And you can make it last, forever you
    You can make it last, forever you.
    ~ Smashing Pumpkins (“Thirty-Three”)
  • The one thing I really liked about the 80s hair-band videos that needs to come back, the one reoccurring motif, were the bands that would rock so fucking hard, they could change the physical properties of things. Like they would blow holes through walls from their rocking, or go up to your shitty Honda Civic and go “Squibaly Doo!” and all of the sudden it’s a sleek Lamborghini –“Hey! Thanks Nightranger!” Squibbaly flabbidy doo! ~ Patton Oswald
  • “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
    “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
    “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
    Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
    “It’s the same thing,” Pooh said. ~ The Tao of Pooh
  • You are what you love, not what loves you. – Nicholas Cage in Adaptation
  • Picking apples for the kings and queens of things I’ve never seen
    Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable
    Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable
    Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable
    Oh, distance has the way of making love understandable
    Oh, distance has the way of making love understandable
    Cheer up, honey, I hope you can . . . ~ Jeff Tweedy/Wilco (“Radio Cure”)
  • I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles
    in our eyes are mirror images and when
    we kiss they’re perfectly aligned . . .
    But everything looks perfect from far away,
    “Come down now,” but we’ll stay . . . ~ The Postal Service (“Such Great Heights”)
  • [. . .] Souls, in general, are living mirrors or images of the universe of creatures, but minds are also images of the divinity itself, or of the author of nature, capable of knowing the system of the universe [. . .] each mind being like a little divinity in its own realm. That is what makes minds capable of entering into a kind of society with God [. . .] the collection of all minds must make up the city of God, the most perfect possible state under the most perfect of monarchs [. . .] Finally, under this perfect government [. . .] everything must result in the well being of the good, that is, of those who [. . .] find pleasure in the consideration of his perfections according to the nature of genuinely pure love, which takes pleasure in the happiness of the beloved. This is what causes these wise and virtuous persons to [. . .] content themselves with what God brings about by his secret, consequent, or decisive will, since they recognize that if we could understand the order of the universe well enough, we would find that it surpasses all the wishes of the wisest, and that it is impossible to make it better than it is. ~ Aristotle


  • Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.
  • Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces.
  • A powerful idea communicates some of its strength to him who challenges it.
  • A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.
  • Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.
  • Happiness serves hardly any other purpose than to make unhappiness possible.
  • If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.
  • If only for the sake of elegance, I try to remain morally pure.
  • Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey.
  • In a separation it is the one who is not really in love who says the more tender things.
  • It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.
  • It is not because other people are dead that our affection for them grows faint, it is because we ourselves are dying.
  • Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
  • Let us leave pretty women to men devoid of imagination.
  • Lies are essential to humanity. They are perhaps as important as the pursuit of pleasure and moreover are dictated by that pursuit.
  • Like everybody who is not in love, he thought one chose the person to be loved after endless deliberations and on the basis of particular qualities or advantages.
  • Like many intellectuals, he was incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way.
  • Love is a reciprocal torture.
  • Love is space and time measured by the heart.
  • No exile at the South Pole or on the summit of Mont Blanc separates us more effectively from others than the practice of a hidden vice.
  • Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees.
  • Our intonations contain our philosophy of life, what each of us is constantly telling himself about things.
  • People can have many different kinds of pleasure. The real one is that for which they will forsake the others.
  • People wish to learn to swim and at the same time to keep one foot on the ground.
  • The bonds that unite another person to our self exist only in our mind.
  • The only paradise is paradise lost.
  • The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
  • The paradoxes of today are the prejudices of tomorrow, since the most benighted and the most deplorable prejudices have had their moment of novelty when fashion lent them its fragile grace.
  • The time at our disposal each day is elastic; the passions we feel dilate it, those that inspire us shrink it, and habit fills it.
  • The world was not created once and for all time for each of us individually. There are added to it in the course of our life things of which we have never had any suspicion.
  • There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.
  • There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory.
  • Those whose suffering is due to love are, as we say of certain invalids, their own physicians.
  • Three-quarters of the sicknesses of intelligent people come from their intelligence. They need at least a doctor who can understand this sickness.
  • Time passes, and little by little everything that we have spoken in falsehood becomes true.
  • Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.
  • We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.
  • We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.
  • We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes.
  • We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.
  • We must never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond.
  • Words do not change their meanings so drastically in the course of centuries as, in our minds, names do in the course of a year or two.
  • Your soul is a dark forest. But the trees are of a particular species, they are genealogical trees.
  • One becomes moral as soon as one is unhappy. (II 282)
  • When we are in love, our love is too big a thing for us to be able to contain it within ourselves. It radiates towards the loved one, finds there a surface which arrests it, forcing it to return to its starting point, and it is this repercussion of our own feeling which we call the other’s feelings and which charms us more then than on its outward journey because we do not recognize it as having originated in ourselves. (II 253)
  • The soldier is convinced that a certain interval of time, capable of being indefinitely prolonged, will be allowed before the bullet finds him, the thief before he is caught, men in general before they have to die. That is the amulet which preserves people—and sometimes peoples—not from danger but from the fear of danger, in reality from the belief in danger, which in certain cases allows them to brave it without actually needing to be brave. It is confidence of this sort, and with as little foundation, that sustains the lover who is counting on a reconciliation, on a letter. For me to cease to expect a reconciliation, it would have sufficed that I should have ceased to wish for one. (II 252)
  • The imagination, when it changes its nature and turns into sensibility, does not thereby acquire control of a large number of simultaneous images. (IV 710)
  • The mistresses whom I have loved most passionately have never coincided with my love for them. (IV 718
  • [My love for them was genuine . . .] But it was more because they had the faculty of arousing that love, of raising it to a paroxysm, than because they were its image. When I saw them, when I heard their voices, I could find nothing in them which resembled my love and could account for it . . . It was as though a virtue that had no connection with them had been artificially attached to them by nature, and that this virtue, this quasi-electric power, had the effect upon me of exciting my love, that is to say of controlling all my actions and causing all my sufferings. But from this, the beauty, or the intelligence, or the kindness of these women was entirely distinct. As by an electric current that gives us a shock, I have been shaken by my loves, I have lived them, I have felt them: never have I succeeded in seeing or thinking them. Indeed I am inclined to believe that in these relationships (I leave out of account the physical pleasure which is their habitual accompaniment but is not enough in itself to constitute them), beneath the outward appearance of the woman, it is to those invisible forces with which she is incidentally accompanied that we address ourselves as to obscure deities. (IV 719)
  • When sleep bore him so far away from the world inhabited by memory and thought, through an ether in which he was alone, more than alone, without even the companionship of self-perception, he was outside the range of time and its measurements. (IV 519)
  • Perhaps every night we accept the risk of experiencing, while we are asleep, sufferings which we regard as null and void because they will be felt in the course of a sleep which we suppose to be unconscious . . . and I entered the realm of sleep, which is like a second dwelling into which we move for that one purpose . . . The race that inhabits it, like that of our first human ancestors, is androgynous. A man in it appears a moment later in the form of a woman. Things in it show a tendency to turn into men, men into friends and enemies. The time that elapses for the sleeper, during these spells of slumber, is absolutely different from the time in which the life of the waking man is passed . . . Then, in the chariot of sleep, we descend into depths in which memory can no longer keep up with it, and on the brink of which the mind has been obliged to retrace its steps. / The horses of sleep, like those of the sun, move at so steady a pace, in an atmosphere in which there is no longer any resistance, that it requires some little meteorite extraneous to ourselves (hurled from the azure by what Unknown?) to strike our regular sleep (which otherwise would have no reason to stop, and would continue with a similar motion world without end) and to make it swing sharply round, return towards reality, travel without pause, traverse the regions bordering on life—whose sounds the sleeper will presently hear, still vague but already perceptible even if distorted—and come to earth suddenly at the point of awakening. Then from those profound slumbers we awake in a dawn, not knowing who we are, being nobody, newly born, ready for anything, the brain emptied of that past which was life until then… Then, from the black storm through which we seem to have passed (but we do not even say we), we emerge prostate, without a thought, a we that is void of content. What hammer-blow has the person or thing that is lying there received to make it unconscious of everything, stupefied until the moment when memory, flooding back, restores to it consciousness of personality?” (IV 517-518
  • One can of course maintain that there is but one time, for the futile reason that it is by looking at the clock that one established as being merely a quarter of an hour what one had supposed a day. But at the moment of establishing this, one is precisely a man awake, immersed in the time of waking man, having deserted the other time. Perhaps indeed more than another time: another life. We do not include the pleasures we enjoy in sleep in the inventory of the pleasures we have experienced in the course of our existence . . . It seems a positive waste. We have had pleasure in another life which is not ours. If we enter up in a budget the pains and pleasures of dreams (which generally vanish soon enough after our waking), it is not in the current account of our everyday life. (IV 519)
  • She’s full of fun. She never leaves a hotel without relieving herself first in a wardrobe or a drawer, just to leave a little keepsake with the chambermaid who’ll have to clean up. Sometimes she does it in a cab, and after she’s paid her fare, she’ll hide behind a tree, and she doesn’t half laugh when the cabby finds he’s got to clean his cab after her. (IV 515)
  • . . . if there is one thing more difficult than submitting oneself to a regime it is refraining from imposing it on others. (IV 676)
  • A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of Earth. The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to posses other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we can do with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star. (V 343)
  • Vinteuil had been dead for a number of years; but in the sound of these instruments which he had loved, it had been given him to go on living, for an unlimited time, a part at least of his life. Of his life as a man solely? If art was indeed but a prolongation of life, was it worthwhile to sacrifice anything to it? Was it not as unreal as life itself? (V 339)
  • One remembers an atmosphere because girls were smiling in it. (V 323)
  • Society is like sexual behavior, in that no one knows what perversions it may develop once aesthetic considerations are allowed to dictate its choices. (V 313)
  • It is what is immediately above our heads that gives us the impression of altitude and not what is almost invisible to us, so far is it lost in the clouds. (V 306)
  • The lie, the perfect lie, about people we know, about the relations we have had with them, about our motive for some action, formulated in totally different terms, the lie as to what we are, whom we love, what we feel with regard to people who love us and believe that they have fashioned us in their own image because they keep on kissing us morning, noon and night—that lie is one of the few things in the world that can open windows for us on to what is new and unknown, that can awaken in us sleeping senses for the contemplation of universes that otherwise we should never have known. (V 282)
  • No banishment, indeed, to the South Pole, or to the summit of Mont Blanc, can separate us so entirely from our fellow creatures as a prolonged sojourn in the bosom of an inner vice, that is to say of a way of thinking different from theirs. (V 275)
  • What asylum doctor has not had his own attack of madness by dint of continual association with madmen? He is lucky if he is able to affirm that it is not a previous latent madness that had predestined him to look after them. The subject of a psychiatrist’s study often rebounds on him. But before that, what obscure inclination, what dreadful fascination had made him choose that subject? (V 272)
  • It is the homosexuality that survives in spite of obstacles, shameful, execrated, that is the only true form, the only form that corresponds in one and the same person to an intensification of the intellectual qualities. (V 270)
  • No doubt to every man the life of every other extends along shadowy paths of which he has no inkling. (V 268
  • And indeed I was well aware now that before I forgot her altogether, I should have to traverse in the opposite direction, like a traveler who returns by the same route to his starting-point, all the sentiments through which I had passed before arriving at my great love. But these stages, these moments of the past are not immobile; they have retained the tremendous force, the happy ignorance of the hope that was then soaring towards a time which has now become the past, but which a hallucination makes us for a moment mistake retrospectively for the future. (V 753)
  • It’s from adolescents who last long enough that life makes its old men.


  • Frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.
  • If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know.
  • In Sleep we lie all naked and alone, in Sleep we are united at the heart of night and darkness, and we are strange and beautiful asleep; for we are dying the darkness and we know no death.
  • Is not this the true romantic feeling – not to desire to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping you?
  • Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America – that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement.
  • The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.
  • The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.
  • There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.
  • This is the artist, then, life’s hungry man, the glutton of eternity, beauty’s miser, glory’s slave.
  • We are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we’re in the present, but we aren’t. The present we know is only a movie of the past.


  • He was impervious to the rays of others, and therefore produced when off his guard a bizarre impression, as of a lone dark obstacle in this world of souls transparent to one another; he learned however to feign translucence, employing a complex system of optical illusions, as it were—but he had only to forget himself, to allow a momentary lapse in self control, in the manipulation of cunningly illuminated facets and angles at which he turned his soul, and immediately there was alarm [. . .]Those around him understood each other at the first word, since they had no words that would end in an unexpected way, perhaps in some archaic letter, an upsilamba, becoming a bird or a catapult with wondrous consequences. (Invitation to a Beheading)

  • A masterpiece of fiction is an original world and as such is not likely to fit the world of the reader.
  • A novelist is, like all mortals, more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past.
  • A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual.
  • A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.
  • All my stories are webs of style and none seems at first blush to contain much kinetic matter. For me style is matter.
  • Caress the detail, the divine detail.
  • Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospective: it has to be shattered before being ascertained.
  • Discussion in class, which means letting twenty young blockheads and two cocky neurotics discuss something that neither their teacher nor they know.
  • Existence is a series of footnotes to a vast, obscure, unfinished masterpiece.
  • It’s a pity one can’t imagine what one can’t compare to anything. Genius is an African who dreams up snow.
  • Happy is the novelist who manages to preserve an actual love letter that he received when he was young within a work of fiction, embedded in it like a clean bullet in flabby flesh and quite secure there, among spurious lives.
  • I have often noticed that after I had bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in the artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it.
  • I think it is all a matter of love: the more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.
  • I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.
  • Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much.
  • Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts.
  • My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
  • No author has created with less emphasis such pathetic characters as Chekhov has.
  • Style and Structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.
  • The breaking of a wave cannot explain the whole sea.
  • The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.
  • The evolution of sense is, in a sense, the evolution of nonsense.
  • The good, the admirable reader identifies himself not with the boy or the girl in the book, but with the mind that conceived and composed that book.
  • The more gifted and talkative one’s characters are, the greater the chances of their resembling the author in tone or tint of mind.
  • The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
  • The tiny madman in his padded cell . . .
  • There is nothing in the world that I loathe more than group activity, that communal bath where the hairy and slippery mix in a multiplication of mediocrity.
  • There is only one school of literature—that of talent.
  • You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.


  • And I don’t want to begin something, I don’t want to write that first sentence until all the important connections in the novel are known to me. As if the story has already taken place, and it’s my responsibility to put it in the right order to tell it to you.
  • And I find—I’m 63, and my capacity to be by myself and just spend time by myself hasn’t diminished any. That’s the necessary part of being a writer, you better like being alone.
  • Good habits are worth being fanatical about.
  • Half my life is an act of revision.
  • I don’t begin a novel or a screenplay until I know the ending. And I don’t mean only that I have to know what happens. I mean that I have to hear the actual sentences. I have to know what atmosphere the words convey.
  • I have pretty thick skin, and I think if you’re going to be in this business, if you’re going to be an actor or a writer, you better have a thick skin.
  • I take people very seriously. People are all I take seriously, in fact. Therefore, I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave—and nothing but laughter to console them with.
  • I’ve always been a fan of the 19th century novel, of the novel that is plotted, character-driven, and where the passage of time is almost as central to the novel as a major minor character, the passage of time and its effect on the characters in the story.
  • There are few things as seemingly untouched by the real world as a child asleep.
  • Writing a novel is actually searching for victims. As I write I keep looking for casualties. The stories uncover the casualties.
  • You can’t learn everything you need to know legally.
  • You don’t want to dwell on your enemies, you know. I basically feel so superior to my critics for the simple reason that they haven’t done what I do. Most book reviewers haven’t written 11 novels. Many of them haven’t written one.
  • You know, people think you have to be dumb to skip rope for 45 minutes. No, you have to be able to imagine something else. While you’re skipping rope, you have to be able to see something else.
  • You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.
  • Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!
  • “Maybe it’s become the eye you see your dreams with,” Garp told him.
    “Sort of,” Duncan said. “But it seems so real.”
    “It’s your imaginary eye,” Garp said. “That can be very real.”
    “It’s the eye I can still see Walt with,” Duncan said. “You know?”
    “I know,” Garp said.


  • A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.
  • A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.
  • A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
  • A sad soul can kill quicker than a germ.
  • Give a critic an inch, he’ll write a play.
  • I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.
  • I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything.
  • I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.
  • I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
  • I’ve lived in good climate, and it bores the hell out of me. I like weather rather than climate.
  • I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.
  • Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
  • In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
  • In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.
  • It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming.
  • It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
  • It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.
  • It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world.
  • Man is the only kind of varmint sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it.
  • Man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.
  • Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.
  • Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.
  • No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.
  • No one wants advice—only corroboration.
  • One can find so many pains when the rain is falling.
  • Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.
  • The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.
  • The impulse of the American woman to geld her husband and castrate her sons is very strong.
  • The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.
  • The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage.
  • The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.
  • These words dropped into my childish mind as if you should accidentally drop a ring into a deep well. I did not think of them much at the time, but there came a day in my life when the ring was fished up out of the well, good as new.
  • This monster of a land, this mightiest of nations, this spawn of the future, turns out to be the macrocosm of microcosm me.
  • Time is the only critic without ambition.
  • Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.
  • We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.
  • Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.
  • Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.


  • I can have incredible self-discipline. But see, I think it’s obviously a form of stupidity.
  • I haven’t physically attacked anyone in a couple of years.
  • I only have two rules for my newly born daughter: she will dress well and never have sex.
  • I was a very good baseball and football player, but my father always told me I was much more interested in how I looked playing baseball or football than in actually playing. There’s great truth in that.
  • I’ve permitted myself to learn and to fail with some regularity. And that is probably the one thing I was given, and that I’m still grateful for.
  • You have to do things people see or you don’t get to do anything.


  • A person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.
  • Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability.
  • An early-rising man is a good spouse but a bad husband.
  • Everything that goes into my mouth seems to make me fat, everything that comes out of my mouth embarrasses me.
  • He who awaits much can expect little.
  • I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him.
  • If God hadn’t rested on Sunday, He would have had time to finish the world.
  • It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.
  • Necessity has the face of a dog.
  • No, not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing.
  • Nobody deserves your tears, but whoever deserves them will not make you cry.
  • She discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.
  • The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burdens of the past.
  • The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.
  • The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.
  • Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.
  • What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.


  • I do not just write, I write what I am. If there is a secret, perhaps that is it.
  • I don’t think there is anything more effective than demanding and keeping a vigilant watch over rigorous respect for human rights.
  • I think we are blind. Blind people who can see, but do not see.
  • I’m a writer, but I live in this world and my writing doesn’t exist on a separate level.
  • In the end we discover the only condition for living is to die.
  • Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
  • People live with the illusion that we have a democratic system, but it’s only the outward form of one. In reality we live in a plutocracy, a government of the rich.
  • Perhaps it is the language that chooses the writers it needs, making use of them so that each might express a tiny part of what it is.
  • The attitude of insolent haughtiness is characteristic of the relationships Americans form with what is alien to them, with others.
  • The novel is not so much a literary genre, but a literary space, like a sea that is filled by many rivers.
  • The novel receives streams of science, philosophy, poetry and contains all of these; it’s not simply telling a story.
  • The problem is that the right doesn’t need any ideas to govern, but the left can’t govern without ideas.
  • Up to and including The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, I was describing statues, insofar as a statue is the external surface of a stone.
  • What I try to do when I write is to get people thinking. I wouldn’t like to leave this life without at least knowing that I tried to do something.
  • Words were not given to man in order to conceal his thoughts.


  • A dream is a scripture, and many scriptures are nothing but dreams.
  • But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
  • I would define the poetic effect as the capacity that a text displays for continuing to generate different readings, without ever being completely consumed.
  • Nothing gives a fearful man more courage than another’s fear.
  • Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.
  • The comic is the perception of the opposite; humor is the feeling of it.
  • The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb.
  • The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.

  • There is no great sport in having bullets flying about one in every direction, but I find they have less horror when among them than when in anticipation.

  • Translation is the art of failure.

  • When men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.


  • A corpse is meat gone bad. Well and what’s cheese? Corpse of milk.
  • A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
  • Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.
  • Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by posterity because he was the last to discover America.
  • I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.
  • Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools cannot recognize.
  • Love (understood as the desire of good for another) is in fact so unnatural a phenomenon that it can scarcely repeat itself, the soul being unable to become virgin again and not having energy enough to cast itself out again into the ocean of another’s soul.
  • My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.
  • Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.
  • Satan, really, is the romantic youth of Jesus re-appearing for a moment.
  • Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.
  • The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.
  • The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.
  • The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole Life to reading my works.
  • There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being.
  • Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.
  • Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.
  • Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why.
  • Your battles inspired me – not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.


  • A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.
  • A masterpiece is something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it’s there complete in the mind, if only at the back.
  • Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders.
  • Arrange whatever pieces come your way.
  • Boredom is the legitimate kingdom of the philanthropic.
  • But when the self speaks to the self, who is speaking?—the entombed soul, the spirit driven in, in, in to the central catacomb; the self that took the veil and left the world—a coward perhaps, yet somehow beautiful, as it flits with its lantern restlessly up and down the dark corridors.
  • Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above.
  • Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title.
  • Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.
  • Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible . . .
  • For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.
  • Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.
  • I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.
  • I read the book of Job last night, I don’t think God comes out well in it.
  • I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.
  • I want the concentration and the romance, and the worlds all glued together, fused, glowing: have no time to waste any more on prose.
  • If one could be friendly with women, what a pleasure – the relationship so secret and private compared with relations with men. Why not write about it truthfully?
  • If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or ‘our’ country, let it be understood soberly and rationally between us that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits where I have not shared and probably will not share.
  • It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.
  • It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple: one must be a woman manly, or a man womanly.
  • It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.


  • To die for a religion is easier than to live it absolutely.
  • Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.
  • The man of a past moment has lived, but he does not live nor will he live; the man of a future moment will live, but he has not lived nor does he now live; the man of the present moment lives, but he has not lived nor will he live. (331?)
  • Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
  • The truth is that we live out our lives putting off all that can be put off; perhaps we all know deep down that we are immortal and that sooner or later all men will do and know all things.
  • Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.
  • Life itself is a quotation.
  • Your unforgivable sins do not allow you to see my splendor.
  • . . . . The image of the Lord has been replaced by a mirror.
  • Like all writers, he measured the achievements of others by what they had accomplished, asking of them that they measure him by what he envisaged or planned.
  • In general, every country has the language it deserves.
  • And yet, and yet… To deny temporal succession, to deny the self, to deny the astronomical universe, appear to be acts of desperation and are secret consolations. Our destiny (unlike the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not terrifying because it is unreal; it is terrifying because it is irrevocable and iron-bound. Time is the substance of which I am made. Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges. (Nonfictions 332)
  • Strictly speaking, the life of a being lasts as long as an idea. Just as a rolling carriage wheel touches earth at only one point, so life lasts as long as a single idea. (Fictions 331)
  • Langauge is so saturated and animated by time that, quite possibly, not a single line in all these pages fails to require or invoke it. (318
  • He died in exile: as with all men, it was his lot to live in bad times.
  • While we sleep here, we are awake elsewhere and in this way every man is two men.
  • …penetrate this unstable world of the mind. A world of evanescent impressions; a world without matter or spirit, neither objective nor subjective; a world without the ideal architecture of space; a world made of time, of the absolute uniform time of the Principia; an inexhaustible labyrinth, a chaos, a dream—the almost complete disintegration that David Hume reached. (321)
  • Are not these identical moments the same moment? Is not one single repeated terminal point enough to disrupt and confound the series in time? Are the enthusiasts who devote themselves to a line of Shakespeare not literally Shakespeare? (323)
  • Before the sun goes down, you’re going to get the chance to show which one of you is toughest. I’m going to have your throats cut, and then you’re going to run a race. Like they say – may the best man win. (388, The Other Duel)
  • A writer needs loneliness, and he gets his share of it. He needs love, and he gets shared and also unshared love. He needs friendship. In fact, he needs the universe. To be a writer is, in a sense, to be a day-dreamer – to be living a kind of double life.


  • In his sleep he could hear the horses stepping among the rocks and he could hear them drink from the shallow pools in the dark where the rocks lay smooth and rectilinear as the stones of ancient ruins and the water from their muzzles dripped and rang like water dripping in a well and in his sleep he dreamt of horses and the horses in his dream moved gravely among the tilted stones like horses come upon an antique site where some ordering of the world had failed and if anything had been written on the stones the weathers had taken it away again and the horses were wary and moved with great circumspection carrying in their blood as they did the recollection of this and other places where horses once had been and would be again. Finally what he saw in his dream was that the order in the horse’s heart was more durable for it was written in a place where no rain could erase it. (All the Pretty Horses)
  • If there is a pattern there it will not shape itself to anything these eyes can recognize. Because the question for me was always whether that shape we see in our lives was there from the beginning or whether these random events are only called a pattern after the fact. Because otherwise we are nothing. Do you believe in fate?

** * * * * * * **

  • In the Guarani language, ne’e means both “word” and “soul.”
    The Guarani Indians believe that those who lie or squander words betray the soul. ~ Edwardo Galeano
  • For you, that night, a line formed of dreams wishing to be dreamed, but it was not possible to dream them all. ~ Eduardo Galeano
  • So the Platonic Year/ Whirls out new right and wrong/ Whirls in the old instead;/ All Men are dancers and their tread/ Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong ~ W. B. Yeats, “The Tower”
  • I’ve never seen you looking so bad, my funky one. You tell me that your superfine mind has come undone. Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend. Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again. And when the demon is at your door, in the morning he won’t be there no more. Any major dude will tell you. – Steely Dan
  • The flashing and golden pageant of California,/The sudden and gorgeous drama . . . ~ Walt Whitman’s “Redwood Tree,” 83-4
  • Sometimes you know you’re standing on a cusp, and you know that in knowing it you’ve gone over to the other side, or at least almost entirely so, entirely except for one toe that still hangs on; one toe or one finger or one shoulder blade curving back to meet another shoulder blade which curves forward to meet yours in a reminder that, if you had wings, this, right here, is where they would sprout. ~ Kamila Shamsie (Kartography)
  • Yesterday’s man died in the man of today, today’s man dies in the man of tomorrow ~ Plutarch
  • Do you really think it’s cool to hit the sauce when you’ve got a bun in the oven? ~ Steve Zissou

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