July 9th, 2009

life of the mind


I did this a while ago on the Face Book and I kept meaning to port it over here because I'm pretentious bored that kind of guy. So, here you go.


First off, if I could distill my entire philosophy of life down into one single quote, it would be the first two lines of the theme song to Diff'rent Strokes:

"Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum;
What might be right for you might not be right for some."

Second, there is a holy trinity of Homer Simpson quotes that has rarely steered me wrong:

1. “Boy. Everyone is stupid except me.”
2. “Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”
3. “It’s because they’re stupid, that’s why. That’s why everybody does everything.”

Third, I was once given what I believe to be an incredibly sage piece of advice by a friend of my dad’s: “There are a lot of people in the world who desperately need to have the shit beat out of them.” I was already impressed by this wisdom as a young fellow, when, years later, I found it stated more elegantly by Flannery O’Connor, who has the Misfit say at the end of ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’: “She would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Fourth, most of the quotes that really punch me in the soul seem to be written by Russians, who have a keener grasp than most folks of the odd combo of misery, insanity, and gallows humor that makes up our funny little world; here’s three of my faves which I’ve loved and referenced constantly since I first ever read them:

1. “Is it not possible to eat me without insisting that I sing praises of my devourer?" (My man Fyodor Dostoevsky, who might just be the greatest writer who ever was. More of it: “Everyone pretends to hate evil, but deep down they all love it, all of them.”)

2. "Whatever he tried to be, whatever he engaged in, the evil and falsehood of it repulsed him and blocked every path of activity." (Leo Tolstoy, from the pretty amazingly insightful Chapter I of Book 8 of War and Peace. Tolstoy again: "I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means -- except by getting off his back.")

3. “All this life is senseless and tragic in which the endless slaving labor of one man constantly goes to supply another with more bread than he can use.” (Maxim Gorky and ain’t it the truth.)

Fifth, I could basically drop in here almost anything ever written or said by Mr. Gus Flaubert or Mr. Ray Chandler.

Anyway, I’m gonna cheat a bit with the actual dozen and double it: 12 great quotes I love, believe and live by in life, and ditto for art. Here goes.


“If you look really hard at things, you’ll forget that you’re going to die.” (Montgomery Clift)

“I’m not religious about God. I’m religious about man.” (D. Boon)

"People who are much too sensitive to demand of cripples that they run races ask of the poor that they get up and act just like everyone else in society." (Michael Harrington)

"The map is not the territory." (Alfred Korzbysky)

“The only difference between lilies and turds is whatever difference humans have agreed upon.” (George Carlin)

"Our laws make law impossible; our liberties destroy all freedom; our property is organized robbery, our morality an impudent hypocrisy; our wisdom is administered by inexperienced or mal-experienced dupes, our power wielded by cowards and weaklings; and our honor false in all its points. I am an enemy of the existing order for good reasons." (George Bernard Shaw)

"People with advantages are loath to believe that they just happen to be people with advantages." (C. Wright Mills)

“Solidarity is not discovered by reflection, but created. It is created by increasing our sensitivity to the particular details of the pain and humiliation of other, unfamiliar sorts of people. Such increased sensitivity makes it more difficult to marginalize people different from ourselves by thinking 'They do not feel as we would,' or 'There must always be suffering, so why not let them suffer?'” (Richard Rorty)

“There are plenty of people to whom the crucial problems of their lives never get presented in terms that they can understand.” (George Chapman)

“There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” (Albert Camus)

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (William Shakespeare)

“There is no way you can use the word ‘reality’ without putting quotation marks around it.” (Joseph Campbell)


"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man." (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

"Never compose anything unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you." (Gustav Holst)

"No artist wants to be understood. If he's understood, he feels superficial. What an artist wants is not to be misunderstood." (Ned Rorem)

"The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting." (Henry James)

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality." (T.S. Eliot)

"So I have loitered my life away, reading books, looking at pictures, going to plays, hearing, thinking, writing on what pleased me best. I have wanted only one thing to make me happy, but wanting that have wanted everything." (William Hazlitt)

"There are many reasons why novelists write, but they all have one thing in common ­-- a need to create an alternative world." (John Fowles)

“There is no ‘must’ in art because art is free.” (Vassily Kandisnky)

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And since there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” (Martha Graham)

"A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns." (P.L. Travers)

"A writer must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid." (William Faulkner)