Self-evaluation, youthful priggishness

When I was a boy of about fifteen, I decided to look into all my beliefs, and discard them if they seemed to have no foundation except tradition or my own prejudices. Being a good deal of a prig, I intended to face one painful possibility every day; I began with the possibility that it might have been better if the English had lost the battle of Waterloo. After pondering this hypothesis for a long time, I found out one argument on Napoleon’s side: that if he had won, England would have had the decimal system.

— Bertrand Russell

Imagine

Imagine the problem is not physical. Imagine the problem has never been physical, that it is not biodiversity, it is not the ozone layer, it is not the greenhouse effect, the whales, the old-growth forest, the loss of jobs, the crack in the ghetto, the abortions, the tongue in the mouth, the diseases stalking everywhere as love goes on unconcerned. Imagine the problem is not some syndrome of our society that can be solved by commissions or laws or a redistribution of what we call wealth. Imagine that it goes deeper, right to the core of what we call our civilization and that no one outside of ourselves can affect real change, that our civilization, our governments are sick and that we are mentally ill and spiritually dead and that all our issues and crises are symptoms of this deeper sickness … then what are we to do?

— Charles Bowden

Posterity, Confusion

The only thing one can be proud of is of having worked in such a way that an official reward for your labor cannot be envisaged by anyone.

— Jean Cocteau

Design and Art

Design is the process of going from an existing condition to a preferred one. Observe that there’s no relationship to art.

— Milton Glaser

A second definition of design, with helpful commentary. See also Tolstoy, answering the question What is Art

Popularity; foolishness

Those who wish for popularity should bear in mind that people do not want generally to be made less foolish or less wicked. What they want is to be told that they are not foolish and not wicked. Now it is only a fool or a liar or both who can tell them this; the masses therefore cannot be expected to like any but fools or liars or both. So when a lady gets photographed, what she wants is not to be made beautiful but to be told that she is beautiful.

— Samuel Butler’s Notebook

Ars Brevis

The destruction of great works of literature and art is as necessary for the continued development of either one or the other as death is for that of organic life. We fight against it as long as we can and often stave it off successfully both for ourselves and others but there is nothing so great — not Homer, Shakespeare, Handel, Rembrandt, de Hooghe, and the goodly company of other great men for whose lives we would gladly give our own — but it has got to go sooner or later, and leave no visible traces, though the invisible ones endure from everlasting to everlasting. It is idle to regret this for ourselves or others. Our effort should tend towards enjoying and being enjoyed as highly and for as long a time as we can, and then chancing the rest.

— Samuel Butler’s Notebook

Adolescence and Maturity

Adolescents are simply those people who haven’t as yet chosen between childhood and adulthood. For as long as anyone tries to hold on to the advantages of childhood—the freedom from responsibility, principally—while seeking to lay claim to the best parts of adulthood, such as independence, he is an adolescent.

— Gene Wolfe

Set Pieces

Like all other villages in Kumaon, Thak during its hundreds of years of existence has passed through many vicissitudes, but never before in its long history had it been deserted as it now was. On my previous visits I had found it a hive of industry, but when I went up to it this afternoon, taking the young buffalo with me, silence reigned over it. Every of the hundred or more inhabitants had fled taking their livestock with them — the only animal I saw in the village was a cat, which gave me a warm welcome; so hurried had the evacuation been that many of the doors of the houses had been left wide open. On every path in the village, in the courtyards of the houses and in the dust before all the doors, I found the tigress’s pugmarks. The open doorways were a menace, for the path as it wound through the village passed close to them, and in any of the houses the tigress might have been lurking.

The Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett was a sensation when it was published in 1945, and it’s not hard to see why. The climax of the book is Corbett’s story of hunting a murderous tiger through the jungle, a race against time at the age of 62. In the failing light of his last hour as a hunter, he calls to the tigress and she comes to him. The whole story is cinematic, and the scene where he enters the abandoned village is a high point.

Speeches: dramatic and poetic

The aim of the serious dramatist is to invent a situation in which several characters reveal — in a way which is spontaneous because it is produced by the situation — the fundamental nature of their being and their attitude to life. Now the poet is someone who devotes his life to exactly such a process of self-revelation as drama attempts to produce in characters: his poems are speeches from the drama of the time in which he is living.

— Stephen Spender

Very specific tastes, vol. III