Optimism

All this world is heavy with the promise of greater things, and a day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings, beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amid the stars.

— H.G. Wells

Barbarians

Sedentary people have become used to laziness and ease … They find full assurance of safety in the walls that surround them, and the fortifications that protect them. The Bedouins have no gates and walls. They always carry weapons. They watch carefully all sides of the road. They take hurried naps only … when they are in the saddle. They pay attention to every faint barking and noise. Fortitude has become a character quality of theirs, and courage their nature.

Ibn Khaldun, quoted in 1453 by Roger Crowley

As preparation for the Turks laying siege to Constantinople.

This was more or less Robert E. Howard’s view of Cimmerians in the Conan books, wasn’t it? The advantage the uneasy savage has in finding a city fat and sleeping.

Anticipation

The payoff of a human venture is, in general, inversely proportional to what it is expected to be.

Nassim Taleb

He was specifically talking about starting businesses in fields with existing competition. In order to estimate the success of a venture, you compare it to businesses which are similar to it. But, the more examples there are of similar businesses, the less likely yours is to be wildly successful.

Life’s work

At the beginning of his career, Gielgud delighted in mere strutting and preening, and wondered why he felt dissatisfied; next, moving to another extreme, he formed a habit of “novelistic absorption” in the people he was playing, and gave himself over to heavy, self-concealing, mask-like make-ups, through which he would peer, hopefully but not yet quite convinced. Late in the 1920s, with the problem still unsolved, he was forced to conclude that he could be defined only as a star; and that his responsibility was to no theory of acting, no producer, and no management, but to himself, and through himself, to his authors. This moment of decision comes, sooner or later, to every actor; the moment at which, consciously or unconsciously, he takes stock, and says to himself, “I know my powers; I have tested them thoroughly. And I am fairly sure that some of them are unique, and theatrically valid quite apart from the roles I play. These qualities will not survive me, as Hamlet or Peer Gynt will survive me. My job, therefore, is to concentrate on putting them over while I still have my looks.”

Kenneth Tynan

The color of god’s blood

   The flatterers of Alexander the great made him believe that he was the son of Jupiter. But being one day sore hurt, and seeing the blood gush out of his wounds: ‘And what think you of this? (said he unto them), Is not this blood of a lively red hew, and merely humane? Methinks it is not of that temper which Homer faineth to trill from the gods wounds.’ Hermodorus the Poet made certain verses in honor of Antigonus, in which he called him the son of Phoebus. To whom he replied, ‘My friend, he that emptieth my close-stools knoweth well there is no such matter.’ He is but a man at all assays: And if of himself he be a man ill-borne, the Empire of the whole world cannot restore him.

– Montaigne

The Enemy Test

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities
[committed by one’s enemies] in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred.

C. S. Lewis

Averaged across the entire culture, it seems like we might be in the ‘grey as black’ phase.

Punctuated equilibria

Once, perhaps, in a generation, a truce is called between artist and critic. This is when an over-riding genius lands, as it were, by parachute on the very tip of Parnassus, making the land quake, shivering our yardsticks to splinters, and dislodging everyone, authors and reviewers alike, from their several footholds. Standards then rise abruptly on all sides, as they rose seventy years ago when Ibsen thundered down on us and showed us what we had all been driving at. At such times feuding ceases, and everybody gets down to work.

Kenneth Tynan