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.