Witold Gombrowicz à Malosyce en 1909
Does man kill or torture because he has come to the conclusion that he has the right to do so? He kills because others kill. He tortures because others torture. The most abhorrent deed becomes easy if the road to it has been paved… I kill because you kill. You and he and all of you torture, therefore, I torture. I killed him because you would have killed me if I had not. Such is the grammar of our time. It follows from this that the spring of action is not housed in the human conscience but in the relationship that is formed between it and other people. We do not commit evil because we have destroyed God in ourselves, but because God and even Satan are unimportant if a deed is sanctioned by another man. Nowhere in Camus’s entire book will one find this simple truth: that a sin is inversely proportionate to the number of people who give themselves up to it and this devaluation of sin and conscience are not reflected in a work whose aim is to magnify them.
— Witold Gombrowicz, from Diary (1953-1969) translated by Lillian Vallee; on The Rebel by Albert Camus
A Tribe Called Quest - Electric Relaxation
Midnight Marauders (1993)
…a form hovering dark and mother-like, her awful face black with the mists of centuries, had aforetime quailed at that white master’s command, had bent in love over the cradles of his sons and daughters, and closed in death the sunken eyes of his wife,—aye, too, at his behest had laid herself low to his lust, and borne a tawny man-child to the world, only to see her dark boy’s limbs scattered to the winds by midnight marauders…
— W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
But tradition is useful to the writer only insofar as the writer is unconscious of its use; only insofar as it is invisible and inaudible; only insofar as the writer breathes it in with the air; only insofar as principled awareness and teacherliness are absent; only insofar as the writer is deaf to the pressure of the collectivity. What could be more treacherous to the genuine nature of the literary impulse than to mistake the writer for a communal leader, or for the sober avatar of a glorious heritage? No writer is trustworthy or steady enough for that…
— Cynthia Ozick, The Din in the Head (2006)
Yusef Komunyakaa, from “Songs for My Father”
Gwendolyn Brooks on a United States postage stamp. Mercy. I am going to buy a thousand and use them forever.
But, as perhaps anyone concerned enough to study such matters will no doubt discover, a leader, who is after all uncommon by nature, can only pretend to be a common man. It is sometimes necessary to project himself as a nice guy, a regular fellow and all that, but such is nature of charismatic authority that the so-called common people will not tolerate very much common behavior in their leaders—a public gesture or two, yes, but even so the minute a leader really climbs down off that pedestal the people are likely to replace their awe of his halo—with contempt for his feet of clay. The fact is, when you destroy the people’s awe of the leader you also destroy their sense of security in his specialness.
— Albert Murray, South to a Very Old Place (1971)
The stranger had given a blithesome promise, and anchored it with oaths, but oaths and anchors equally will drag; naught else abides on fickle earth but unkept promises of joy. Contrary winds from out unstable skies, or contrary moods of his more varying mind, or shipwreck and sudden death in solitary waves—whatever was the cause, the blithe stranger never was seen again.
— Herman Melville, The Encantadas; or Enchanted Islands (1854)
Family Reunion, East Texas, 1975
Fred Baldwin & Wendy Watriss
The guy on the right looks just like my uncle Oscar Lee
I slept none that night. The further I was from the occasion of my fright the greater my apprehensions were, which is something contrary to the nature of such things, and especially to the usual practice of all creatures in fear. But I was so embarrassed with my own frightful ideas of the thing, that I formed nothing but dismal imaginations to myself, even though I was now a great way off it.
— Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)