Bookish Quotes

2018/07/15 quotes

May exude pretentiousness, reader beware.

Clevinger was one of those people with lots of intelligence and no brains, and everyone knew it except those who soon found it out. In short, he was a dope. He often looked to Yossarian like one of those people hanging around modern museums with both eyes together on one side of a face. It was an illusion, of course, generated by Clevinger's predilection for staring fixedly at one side of a question and never seeing the other side at all. Politically, he was a humanitarian who did know right from left and was trapped uncomfortably between the two. He was constantly defending his Communist friends to his right-wing enemies and his right-wing friends to his Communist enemies, and he was thoroughly detested by both groups, who never defended him to anyone because they thought he was a dope. [...] He was a militant idealist who crusaded against racial bigotry by growing faint in its presence.
— Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Call it the revolt of the caring classes. Because, after all, the working classes have always been the caring classes really. I say this as a person of working class background myself. Not only are almost all actual caregivers (not to mention caretakers!) working class, but people of such backgrounds always tend to see themselves as the sort of people who actively care about their neighbors and communities, and value such social commitments far beyond material advantage. It’s just our obsession with certain very specific forms of rather macho male labor—factory workers, truck-drivers, that sort of thing—which then becomes the paradigm of all labor in our imaginations; that blinds us to the fact that the bulk of working class people have always been engaged in caring labor of one sort or another. So I think we need to start by redefining labor itself, maybe, start with classic “women’s work,” nurturing children, looking after things, as the paradigm for labor itself and then it will be much harder to be confused about what’s really valuable and what isn’t. As I say, we’re already seeing the first stirrings of this sort of thing. It’s both a political and a moral transformation and think it’s the only way we can overcome the system that puts so many of us in bullshit jobs.
— David Graeber, Salon Interview (2014)
When Trump became a contender for the White House, I saw him as an extension or fulfillment of the conservative movement rather than a break with it. Almost everything people found outrageous and objectionable about his candidacy — the racism, the contempt for institutions, the ambient violence, the hostility to the rule of law — I’d been seeing in the right for years. Little in Trump surprised me, except for the fact that he won.
Whenever I said this, people got angry with me. They still do. For months, now years, I puzzled over that anger. My wife explained it to me recently: in making the case for continuity between past and present, I sound complacent about the now. I sound like I’m saying that nothing is wrong with Trump, that everything will work out. I thought I was giving people a steadying anchor, a sense that they — we — had faced this threat before, a sense that this is the right-wing monster we’ve been fighting all along, since Nixon and Reagan and George W. Bush. Turns out I was removing their ballast, setting them afloat in the intermittent and inconstant air.
— Corey Robin, Forget About It (2018)
What is happening to Marx's theory has, in the course of history, happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes fighting for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names, to a certain extent, for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.
— Vladimir Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917)
There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.
— Mark Twain
Intelligence, which is capable of looking farther ahead than the next aggressive mutation, can set up long-term aims and work towards them; the same amount of raw invention that bursts in all directions from the market can be - to some degree - channelled and directed, so that while the market merely shines (and the feudal gutters), the planned lases, reaching out coherently and efficiently towards agreed-on goals. What is vital for such a scheme, however, and what was always missing in the planned economies of our world's experience, is the continual, intimate and decisive participation of the mass of the citizenry in determining these goals, and designing as well as implementing the plans which should lead towards them.
— Iain M. Banks, "A Few Notes on the Culture"
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, "A Few Figs from Thistles", 1920. [1]
Ideas locas, mal hilvanadas,
en un torbellino bravio y audaz
cruzan mi mente, que alborozada,
busca un nido donde albergar
Siento deseos, grandes impulsos,
del azul horizonte, rauda cruzar
pero tengo un miedo, indefinido,
de que en mi vuelo a remontar,
las alas de mi espiritu se quiebren rotas,
y sepa entonces lo que es llorar
— Concepción Petra Buj Marías (1926 - 2008) [2]
We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.
Ursula K. LeGuinn at National Book Awards
The effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.
— Arthur Schopenhauer
What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.... And people flock around the poet and say: 'Sing again soon' - that is, 'May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.'
— Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
Our craving for generality has another main source; our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is 'purely descriptive'.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point however is to change it.
— Karl Marx
The dismissive understanding of identity as trap parrots the position of its alleged opponents and simply gives it a negative meaning
If identities are indeed fluid, they can hypothetically be cultivated and educated beyond any narcissistic cul-de-sac they may have arrived at,
Malcolm X thinking moved towards revolutionary universalism by fidelity to two particular experiences — that of being black in America, and being a follower of Islam — neither of which were static identities, but developed over time along with his overall political vision. Nor would the trajectory of Che Guevara make any sense without his loyalties to an interconnected family of patrias — Argentina, Cuba, Latin America as a whole — and his sympathies for the plight of those throughout the world who were dispossessed of a homeland of their own by imperialism. In neither case was the particular simply shed to reveal the “real” core of truth beneath all of the contingencies.What they wanted and who they were inseparable intertwined. For both men, the abstract forms of political emancipation were given content by a concern to live out specific identities to the end, identities which in turn which were given a heightened meaning and intensity by being forced to acknowledge and search for what fell outside of themselves.
And surely this has also been the case with the radicalization of people who never achieved the celebrity of those two men. The mere abstract hope in a completely alien future that we cannot even yet imagine is rarely sufficient to make the leap towards resistance. Nor is it always a concern for wages and workplace conditions that forces one to think in terms of revolution as opposed to resignation or incremental reform. Often, it is the seizure of a name, of some fragments of experience, memory, and desire, and the refusal to surrender them up, that forces otherwise mute and dumb atomized individuals to confront the totality that encircles them.
Once we have come to the conclusion we have been wronged by capitalism, it becomes easier to conceive that others may have suffered as well. The world may have presented itself as one more or less happy whole of essentially identical people now begins to tell multiple tales of tragedy, struggle, and occasional victory.
Ultimately, what was wanted only for one’s own sake, in seeking to realize itself, becomes the basis for a general sympathy with others.
Red Maistre, on On Identitarianism: A Defense of a Strawman
In a democratic polity, wonks are the help. The role of the democratic process is to adjudicate interests and values. Wonks get a vote just like everyone else, but expertise on technocratic matters ought not translate to any deference on interests and values. If your theory of democracy is that informed citizens ought to cast votes based on the best social science, you have no theory of democracy at all. If you are honest, you will follow your own theory where it leads, as Bryan Caplan has, and work to limit democracy. But Caplan, whom I love, is mistaken, because he begins with a mistaken theory of politics. If you want to see how that theory of politics works in the real world, look no farther than the European Union, which is a real-time experiment in demoting democratic adjudication of values in favor of technocratic adjudication of facts. I know, you don’t agree with their science. Their economists haven’t died quickly enough to realize that a decades-old consensus has been discredited. Technocracy, like communism, like capitalism, has never been tried. Elevating technocracy above democracy is similar to, and as insidious as, letting military power escape civilian control. The problem with life under military rule is not that the army lacks patriotism, or that it doesn’t mean well. But the interests of the military are not the interests of the polity, and we invented democracy because human beings have a tendency to confuse their own interests with the public’s. The interests of the class of humans who might reasonably qualify as technocrats are also not the interests of the polity.
Steve Randy Waldman, about the 2016 US Presidential Election
The political-science professors, perfectly sane men, look at me with wonder when I talk about the ruling class in America. They say, “You are one of those conspiracy theorists. You think there’s a headquarters and they get together at the Bohemian Grove and run the United States.” Well, they do get together at the Bohemian Grove and do a lot of picking of Secretaries of State, anyway. But they don’t have to conspire. They all think alike. It goes back to the way we’re raised, the schools we went to–after all, I’m a reluctant member of this group. You don’t have to give orders to the editor of The New York Times. He is in place because he will respond to a crisis the way you want him to, as will the President, as will the head of the Chase Manhattan Bank.
Gore Vidal on an interview with Playboy
Even as I watched it and shuddered with revulsion, I had to admit it — Fincher’s got our number. He’s figured out how to regularly wow contemporary audiences, to present us with the appalling truth of how despicable we are in a way that never really strikes home, by alternating coldly disapproving, feel-bad effects with conspiratorial smirking ones that remove any real sting. He so often uses the trappings of film noir to showcase our “badness,” but since we’re all perverts together, it’s just the “badness” of S&M sex-play, so who cares?
Eileen Jones reviewing Gone Girl
When I pass a newsstand and see the saintly, bearded, intellectual Kubrick on the cover of Saturday Review, I wonder: Do people notice things like the way Kubrick cuts to the rival teen-age gang before Alex and his hoods arrive to fight them, just so we can have the pleasure of watching that gang strip the struggling girl they mean to rape? Alex's voice is on the track announcing his arrival, but Kubrick can't wait for Alex to arrive, because then he couldn't show us as much. That girl is stripped for our benefit; it's the purest exploitation. Yet this film lusts for greatness, and I'm not sure that Kubrick knows how to make simple movies anymore, or that he cares to, either. I don't know how consciously he has thrown this film to youth; maybe he's more of a showman than he lets on — a lucky showman with opportunism built into the cells of his body. The film can work at a pop-fantasy level for a young audience already prepared to accept Alex's view of the society, ready to believe that that's how it is.
At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don't have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact de-sensitizing us. They are saying that everyone is brutal, and the heroes must be as brutal as the villains or they turn into fools. There seems to be an assumption that if you're offended by movie brutality, you are somehow playing into the hands of the people who want censorship. But this would deny those of us who don't believe in censorship the use of the only counterbalance: the freedom of the press to say that there's anything conceivably damaging in these films — the freedom to analyze their implications. If we don't use this critical freedom, we are implicitly saying that no brutality is too much for us — that only squares and people who believe in censorship are concerned with brutality. Actually, those who believe in censorship are primarily concerned with sex, and they generally worry about violence only when it's eroticized. This means that practically no one raises the issue of the possible cumulative effects of movie brutality. Yet surely, when night after night atrocities are served up to us as entertainment, it's worth some anxiety. We become clockwork oranges if we accept all this pop culture without asking what's in it. How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience?
Pauline Kael reviewing A Clockwork Orange
With fame, money and sex settled, he had to find something else to fight, and like any honorable man he chose to fight his own people. And that was how Byron, the sentimental poet of graveyards and lost loves, became the Satanic joker all of England loved to hate.
John Dolan, on Lord Byron: The eXile’s Patron Saint
It was, of course, nothing more than sexism,the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.
— Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash
[T]he sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
— Carl Jung [3]

[1] I learned about this poem via my good friend James.
[2] This poem was written by my grandma when she was a teenager, and my sister and mom both deliver it beautifully.
[3] I don't honestly know how I feel about Jung, but it was my quote on ETI for the longest time nonetheless.