What becomes of and what do I care about humanity, benevolence, modesty, temperance, tenderness, wisdom, piety, when half a pound of lead shot from 600 paces shatters my body, and I die at the age of twenty in agony beyond words, in the midst of five or six thousand dying men, while my eyes, opening for the last time, see the town in which I was born destroyed by sword and fire, and the last sounds I hear are the cries of women and children expiring under the ruins, all for the alleged benefit of a man I do not know?
— Voltaire, from “War” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764) translated by Theodore Besterman
I explained that an animal is not born to carry another animal on its back. A man on a horse is as weird as a rat riding a rooster, a chicken riding a camel, a monkey riding a cow, or a dog riding a buffalo. A man on a horse is a scandal, an upsetting of the natural order of things, violent artificiality, dissonance, ugliness. They called on works of sculptors celebrating the equestrian. I laughed in their faces. Statues! Why art has always paid homage to convention—it was almost like fashion! Custom decides everything. For centuries we have looked at equestrian statues just as we have looked at men on horseback, but if we rubbed our eyes and looked afresh, we would scowl in distaste—because a horse’s back is no more a place for man than the back of a cow.
— Witold Gombrowicz, Diary (1953-1969) translated from the Polish by Lillian Vallee
Every man and woman I pass on the street feels trapped by the boundaries of their skin, but, in fact, they are delicate receiving instruments whose spirituality and corporality vibrate in one specific manner because they have been set at one specific pitch. Each of them bears within himself a multitude of souls and, I maintain, of bodies as well, but only one soul and one body are at their disposal, the others remaining unliberated. By changing civilizations, time continually liberates new souls and bodies in man, and thus time is not a serpent devouring its own tail, though ordinary men and women do not know this.
— Czeslaw Milosz, from Visions from San Francisco Bay (1975) translated from the Polish by Richard Lourie
A painted landscape undoubtedly says something else to us than does the same landscape in nature; its effect on our soul is different. But not because a painting is more beautiful than nature, no, a painting will always be incompetent beauty, beauty spoiled by the clumsy hand of man. It is possible, though, that this is the reason behind the attraction. The picture shows us the beauty that was felt, seen by someone like the painter. The picture not only says: “this landscape is beautiful,” but also: “I saw this and was struck by it and that is why I painted it.”
— Witold Gombrowicz, from Diary (1953-1969) translated by Lillian Vallee
The commander of the prison, Christopher Columbus, invited me to a banquet. After much feasting and triumph (I was forced to watch them) the commander asked me to go down to the river. When we came to the edge of the river he showed me a written command he had received from an anonymous source to execute us all—myself, Teddy, Alice, Patrice, David, my mother—and he immediately carried out this command. We were all beheaded and our bodies taken to Concord, Massachusetts, and our heads were carried with speed to a terminal that resembled Union Station in Washington. The cause for the murders the commander said was that he had intercepted the character letters for Teddy and they revealed secret intelligence with the king of Spain. “But I have not met the king of Spain, ” my head replies. I can’t help but think how like the Ghost in Hamlet we look. “But I have not met the king of Spain” I reply over and over.
…we pretend before ourselves and others that we are after the truth, whereas in reality, the truth is merely a pretext for our personal flight in discussion, for our, succinctly speaking, pleasure. When you play tennis, you don’t try to convince others that you are interested in anything else but the game. Yet when you toss arguments around, you do not want to admit that truth, belief, worldview, ideal, humanity, or art have become a ball and that the important thing is who beats whom, who shines, or who will distinguish himself in the scuffle that so nicely fills out the afternoon.
— Witold Gombrowicz, from Diary (1953-1969) translated from the Polish by Lillian Vallee
"Do you think," said Candide, "that mankind always massacred each other as they do now? Were they always guilty of lies, fraud, treachery, ingratitude, inconstancy, envy, ambition, and cruelty? Were they always thieves, fools, cowards, gluttons, drunkards, misers, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics and hypocrites?" "Do you believe," said Martin, "that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they could get them?" "Of course," said Candide. "Well, then," replied Martin, "if hawks have always had the same nature, why do you suppose that mankind has changed?"
— Voltaire, Candide (1759) translated by Henry Morley revised by Lauren Walsh
He said that we were almost a nation of poets, and musicians. Talking about West Africans. He said that blue was our favorite color, you know that beautiful Guinea blue. So that when you come over here though, blue has changed, its dimension has changed. So we no longer, when we say blue now we think of sadness, and history, but there’s also a touch of beauty in that. You know, The Blues.We say, yeah he really blew, like/meaning, he really expressed himself, but we say, yeah he blue, meaning, he lost. So that kind of dialectical combination of the blues as beauty and the blues is loss is tied to, how ancient, how ancient— it’s important. And so The Blues is our national consciousness. No matter what kinda music we play, if it’s got any substance to it the blues is in it somewhere. Weather it’s rap, or weather it’s Duke Ellington, or John Coltrane, or Reggae, you know, that strain is in it, that pentatonic scale from Africa, is in it, and uh, we tell our lives…. When that music changes, it means the people have changed. When black music changes it means their minds have changed, they’ve altered their relationship to the world in some way…And that ain’t submission, that’s just hold and wait, like the revolutionary said, hold and wait—
"…let me hear your precautions in traveling during thunderstorms."
"Briefly, then. I avoid pine trees, high houses, lonely barns, upland pastures, running water, flocks of cattle and sheep, a crowd of men. If I travel on foot—as today—I do not walk fast; if in my buggy, I touch not its back or sides; if on horseback, I dismount and lead the horse. But of all things, I avoid tall men."
"Do I dream? Man avoid man? and in danger-time, too."
"Tall men in a thunderstorm I avoid. Are you so grossly ignorant as not to know that the height of a six-footer is sufficient to discharge an electric cloud upon him?…Nay, if the six-footer stand by running water, the cloud will sometimes select him as its conductor to that running water.”
“Family photographs are as subject to mortality as people are. You think, I remember that picture — I wonder where it can be? And the answer is, nowhere. It got thrown out, by somebody who said, “After I’m gone, who will care about these things?” Or by somebody who didn’t even know what it was a picture of. The past is forever being swept away in the interest of neatness and order. It is unforgivable, or at least I don’t intend to forgive it.”— William Maxwell, Ancestors (via maudnewton)
"Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers."
— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from “The Naval Treaty" in Memoirs ofSherlock Holmes (1893)
It is a common custom to refer to the usual complications between one man and two ladies, or one lady and two men, or a lady and a man and a nobleman, or—well, any of these problems—as the triangle. But they are never unqualified triangles. They are always isosceles—never equilateral. So, upon the coming of Nevada Warren, she and Gilbert and Barbara Ross lined up into such a figurative triangle; and of that triangle Barbara formed the hypotenuse…
It usually takes a hypotenuse a long time to discover that it is the longest side of a triangle.
— O. Henry, from “Schools and Schools" in Selected Stories of O. Henry (1906-1917)
When Sarah ate she set aside, with a sigh, the dish of dandelions with its crowning ovarious accompaniment. As this dark mass had been transformed from a bright and love-indorsed flower to be an ignominious vegetable, so had her summer hopes wilted and perished. Love may, as Shakespeare said, feed on itself: but Sarah could not bring herself to eat the dandelions that had graced, as ornaments, the first spiritual banquet of her heart’s true affection.
Since I was exiled here, it was impossible to remain by just standing still. I became an actor and gave myself the name of “I” and it was I who had to search out the cycles that helped me play the roles of my exile. Not only did I play myself; it was also necessary to take on the roles of others who were shrewder than I, and masters of their own plots. Yet, hidden in the sorcery of those plots were things to help me unmask them. I had only to listen to their lines, then concoct lines of my own—to question me, then lead me toward the daily answers.
— Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (1990)
We forget that man does not exist only to convince another man. He exists in order to win, to win to his side, to seduce, charm, possess. Truth is not a matter of arguments. It is only a matter of attraction, that is, a pulling toward. Truth does not make itself real in an abstract contest of ideas, but in a collision of persons. Being condemned to read a fair amount of books filled only with arguments, I know what truth severed from the person is: a laborious truth. And that is why I turn to you with the plea: Do not allow an idea to grow in you at the price of your personality.
— Witold Gombrowicz, Diary (1953-1969) translated by Lillian Vallee