Friday, December 25, 2009

Marx: Capitalism is a vampire

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.

(p233, my edition)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Kafka: The Right Perception of Any Matter

'The right perception of any matter and a misunderstanding of the same matter do not wholly exclude each other.'

Kafka, The Trial, Everyman's Library Edition, p238

Berman: Whether We Could Live at All

...where Meyer [Schapiro] bathed us in art that made us see the joy and beauty of modern life, Lionel [Trilling] forced us to read modern literature in ways that made us wonder whether we could live at all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Herbert: The Affliction (!)

The Affliction (I)

by George Herbert
When first thou didst entice to thee my heart,
I thought the service brave;
So many joys I writ down for my part,
Besides what I might have
Out of my stock of natural delights,
Augmented with thy gracious benefits.

I looked on thy furniture so fine,
And made it fine to me;
Thy glorious household-stuff did me entwine,
And 'tice me unto thee.
Such stars I counted mine: both heav'n and earth;
Paid me my wages in a world of mirth.

What pleasures could I want, whose King I serv'd,
Where joys my fellows were?
Thus argu'd into hopes, my thoughts reserv'd
No place for grief or fear.
Therefore my sudden soul caught at the place,
And made her youth and fierceness seek thy face.

At first thou gav'st me milk and sweetnesses;
I had my wish and way;
My days were straw'd with flow'rs and happiness;
There was no month but May.
But with my years sorrow did twist and grow,
And made a party unawares for woe.

My flesh began unto my soul in pain,
"Sicknesses cleave my bones;
Consuming agues dwell in ev'ry vein,
And tune my breath to groans."
Sorrow was all my soul; I scarce believ'd,
Till grief did tell me roundly, that I liv'd.

When I got health, thou took'st away my life,
And more, for my friends die;
My mirth and edge was lost, a blunted knife
Was of more use than I.
Thus thin and lean without a fence or friend,
I was blown through with ev'ry storm and wind.

Whereas my birth and spirit rather took
The way that takes the town;
Thou didst betray me to a ling'ring book,
And wrap me in a gown.
I was entangled in the world of strife,
Before I had the power to change my life.

Yet, for I threaten'd oft the siege to raise,
Not simp'ring all mine age,
Thou often didst with academic praise
Melt and dissolve my rage.
I took thy sweet'ned pill, till I came where
I could not go away, nor persevere.

Yet lest perchance I should too happy be
In my unhappiness,
Turning my purge to food, thou throwest me
Into more sicknesses.
Thus doth thy power cross-bias me, not making
Thine own gift good, yet me from my ways taking.

Now I am here, what thou wilt do with me
None of my books will show;
I read, and sigh, and wish I were a tree,
For sure then I should grow
To fruit or shade: at least some bird would trust
Her household to me, and I should be just.

Yet, though thou troublest me, I must be meek;
In weakness must be stout;
Well, I will change the service, and go seek
Some other master out.
Ah my dear God! though I am clean forgot,
Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Eric Bentley on artists and explanations

That it is not always desirable for an artist to become too conscious of what he is doing can be amply illustrated from the career of ... Charles Chaplin. When people explained to Charlie what was going on in his early films, he unloaded their explanations into his later films, which, consequently, are weighed down with explanations. Though the artist, qua artist, does not explain himself, in our day, explanatoriness has become the besetting sin of the cultural climber: Charlie Chaplin thought by explanations—symbolism, message, philosophy—to come up in the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Jim Harrison: Eat or Die

Small portions are for smallish or inactive people. When it was all the rage, I was soundly criticized for saying that the cuisine minceur was the moral equivalent of the fox-trot. Life is too short for me to approach a meal with the mincing steps of a Japanese prostitute.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Emily Dickinson: This is the Gnat that Mangles Men

Wonder — is not precisely Knowing
And not precisely Knowing not —
A beautiful but bleak condition
He has not lived who has not felt —

Suspense — is his maturer Sister —
Whether Adult Delight is Pain
Or of itself a new misgiving —
This is the Gnat that mangles men —

-Emily Dickinson, #1347

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

John Maynard Keynes

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

-John Maynard Keynes

From Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Corbin and Strauss: Grounded Theory

"As stated previously, a category stands for a phenomenon, that is, a problem, an issue, and event, or a happening that is defined as being significant to respondents...A phenomenon has the ability to express what is going on.

Anselm Strauss and Juliet Corbin, "Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory" p124, second edition

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Robert Wilson: What is it?

"The reason I work as an artist is to ask questions. That is to say, What is it? And not to say what something is. For if we know what it is that we're doing there's no reason to do it."

-Robert Wilson

Beckett: Neary's anger

He was sad, with the snarling sadness of the choleric man. With the chop-sticks held like bones between his fingers he kept up a low battuta of anger.

-Beckett, Murphy p72 (battuta is conductor's way of establishing tempo for an orchestra)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Beckett: Murphy's Tripe

"I declare to my God," said Neary, "sometimes you talk as great tripe as Murphy."

"Once a certain degree of insight has been reached," said Wylie, "all men talk, when talk they must, the same tripe."

Samuel Beckett, Murphy p39 (Grove Centenary Edition)

Flaubert: Never Touch Your Idols

Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.

Gustave Flaubert, "Madame Bovary" p263 (Leon re: Emma or the other way around)

Flaubert: Description of Children Playing

The children ran around in their canvas shoes as though it had been a playground, and you could hear the clamour of their voices above the clanging of the bell. It diminished with the
oscillations of the great rope, hanging down from the high belfry, which trailed its end on the floor below.

The swallows were gliding, squeaking, slicing the air with their wings, and hurrying back to their yellow nests, beneath the tiles on the coping. At the far end of the church, a lamp was burning, a night-light wick inside a glass hanging up. From a distance, it looked like a white blotch flickering above the oil. A long ray of sunlight cut right across the nave, making it even darker in the aisles and the niches.

Gustave Flaubert, "Madame Bovary" p103 (Penguin edition)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kapuscinski: On Provincialism of Time

We normally associate the concept of provincialism with geographic space. A provincial is one whose worldview is shaped by a certain marginal area to which he ascribes an undue importance, inaptly universalizing the particular. But T.S. Eliot cautions against another kind of provincialism--not of space, but of time.

"In our age," he writes in a 1944 essay about Virgil, "when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which deserves a new name. It is a provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares. The menace of this kind of provincialism is, that we can all, all the peoples on the globe, be provincials together; and those who are not content to be provincials, can only become hermits."

-Ryszard Kapuscinski, "Travels with Herodotus" p270-1

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nabokov, Reading with the spine

It seems to me that a good formula to test the quality of a novel is, in the long run, a merging of the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle even though we must keep a little aloof, a little detached when reading. Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass.

Vladimir Nabokov, "Good Readers and Good Writers" from Lectures on Literature

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water—peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking.

Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chekhov on Academics

Voynitsky: ...for twenty-five years [Serebryakov] has been reading and writing things long known to the wise and of no interest to the stupid; so for twenty-five years he has been pouring from one empty vessel to another. And combined with what conceit! What presumption! He retires and not a living soul has heard of him, he is completely unknown; so, for twenty-five years, he has occupied a post which shouldn't have been his. And look at him: he strides about like a demi-god!

Astrov: Well, I think you're envious.

Voynitsky: Yes, I envy him. And he's so successful with women!

Chekhov on Grace

When a person expends the least possible quantity of movement on a certain act, that is grace.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nabokov on Standards

I am very eager to debunk Dostoevsky. But I realize that readers who haven't read much may be puzzled by the set of values implied.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Barnes: Flaubert's Parrot train image

[Narrator G. Braithwaite speaking of Mauriac]
He finds himself by looking in the works of others...Reading his 'memoirs' is like meeting a man on a train who says, 'Don't look at me, that's misleading. If you want to know what I'm like, wait until we're in a tunnel, and then study my reflection in the window.' You wait, and look, and catch a face against a shifting background of sooty walls, cables and sudden brickwork. The transparent shape flickers and jumps always a few feet away. You become accustomed to its existence, you move with its movements; and though you know its presence is conditional, you feel it to be permanent. Then there is a wail from ahead, a roar and a burst of light; the face is gone forever.

(p96 in Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes - an otherwise forgettable book)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - Memorable quotes

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004):

"[Mary reads to Dr. Mierzwiak out of 'Bartlett's Familiar Quotations'; the lines are from Alexander Pope's poem 'Eloisa to Abelard']

Mary: How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

West: The Day of the Locust III

He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into a police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.

(p185, The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West)

West: The Day of the Locust II

Tod went into the living room to see how Homer was getting on. He was still on the couch, but had changed his position. He had curled his big body into a ball. His knees were drawn up almost to his chin, his elbows were tucked in close and his hands were against his chest. But he wasn't relaxed. Some inner force of nerve and muscle was straining to make the ball tighter and still tighter. He was like a steel spring which has been freed of its function in a machine and allowed to use all its strength centripetally. While part of a machine the pull of the spring had been used against other and stronger forces, but now, free at last, it was striving to attain the shape of its original coil.

(p171, The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West)

West: The Day of the Locust

Tod whistled with amazement.
"Some gal!"
"You bet," said the dwarf. "A lollapalooza--all slut and a yard wide."

(p63, The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West)