What I Bought
What theater do we have besides beauty contests? (Maxine Hong Kingston, from Tripmaster Monkey)
Ah! but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares. (Joseph Conrad, from Heart of Darkness)
“You can’t be a pure nation anymore, like the French and Germans used to be. At the stage of technology we have reached, nations work only if they float in the larger world. And what you have in this part of the world are fossilized nations, dead societies that have yet to revive. There are a group of young reformers in our parliament, educated in the West. But Georgians only want heroes. These reformers have never killed, they don’t drink two liters of wine every evening, they don’t fight, they have no mustaches or daggers, so they can’t be heroes!” (Robert Kaplan, from Eastward to Tartary)
Out of the seven days of creation, four were successful and three were unsuccessful. Only one day held sway and made this world a successful world. That was the seventh day, the day of rest, when the Creator did nothing. (Milorad Pavić, from Landscape Painted with Tea)
His father smiled thinly. “Perhaps not for a while. But in the end, someone always has to have his or her neck popped, as you so quaintly put it. The people demand it. Sooner or later, if there isn’t a turncoat, the people make one.” (Stephen King, from The Gunslinger)
“We start our lives in chaos, in babble. As we surge up into the world, we try to devise a shape, a plan. There is dignity in this. Your whole life is a plot, a scheme, a diagram. It is a failed scheme but that’s not the point. To plot is to affirm life, to seek shape and control. Even after death, most particularly after death, the search continues. Burial rites are an attempt to complete the scheme, in ritual. Picture a state funeral, Jack. It is all precision, detail, order, design. The nation holds its breath. The efforts of a huge and powerful government are brought to bear on a ceremony that will shed the last trace of chaos. If all goes well, if they bring it off, some natural law of perfection is obeyed. The nation is delivered from anxiety, the deceased’s life is redeemed, life itself is strengthened, reaffirmed.”
“Are you sure?” I said.
“To plot, to take aim at something, to shape time and space. This is how we advance the art of human consciousness.” (Don DeLillo, from White Noise)
Aliye’s death, and its echoes, had been stilled by the greater horror of this mother’s death, which burned inside him like a smothered coal in the silence there. But Aliye had started dying from the moment his mother told him that they were not to marry, in spite of the bey’s gracious visit, in spite of the fine carpet, in spite of the words he has whispered to Aliye and which he had thought were true words. He knew then how it must end for her, though his mother said it would be otherwise. He wished that there were one fixed thing in the world that would never change, or disappoint him, or leave him, but he did not know what that might be, unless it was the idea of God, which was a certitude without delight or consolation. (Starling Lawrence, from Montenegro)
And all the time, like pipes dripping, weakening and preparing to burst in the attic, around the house hearts were slowly breaking while nothing was being said. (Hanif Kureishi, from The Buddha of Suburbia)
“Without the right sound, writing is worthless.” Laney gazed at the cream-colored wall. “He fired me, you know. One day there was an Italian novel and I couldn’t read Italian, so he let me go from the job of reading. Joyce fired me from the job for which I was not paid.” (Roger Kahn, from The Boys of Summer)
People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it any more.
I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun.
This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt. (Kurt Vonnegut, from Slaughterhouse-5)
“What of the success of the Expulsion?” Carranque asked. The driver was momentarily silenced.
“Success for the Catholics?” I ventured.
“Certainly not, Señora.” Now it was Carranque who laughed. “The Expulsion of the Jews was an unmitigated disaster for the Catholics. For a brief time, Their Catholic Majesties feasted on the properties and treasures left behind by the running Jews. But after a very short while they awoke to the truth that their best and their brightest had fled. Gone were their merchants, their statesmen, their doctors, their artisans and their artists, their poets, their musicians, their singers, and their leatherworkers. Without its Jews, Spain dried up into the shriveled olive it is today.”
“So the success?”
“Was the success of the Jews — the Jews who fled to Morocco, to Italy, to Greece, to Turkey, to the Netherlands. They spread their art and learning across the Mediterranean, through the Strait of Gibraltar and northward into Europe. They made a virtue of exile, found their greatest reward in exile, found their humanity, their lost identity, in exile.” (Jonathan Levi, from A Guide For The Perplexed)
He was mingling with people who treated human flesh as pigment, life and death as a canvas, the human spine as an easel, and he could not for the life of him look away from it with all of his being: with most of it, yes, but not with the peeping bit of him. (Paul West*, from The Women of Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper)
“It’s sex, isn’t it? We can’t deal with it. That’s why our religions hate it so much. It wants to save us from ourselves. If we don’t have any certainties, we can’t trust ourselves.” (Graham Joyce, from Requiem)
“I need to know secrets and have secrets and keep secrets. I need to be confided in. Each time you come alone and you don’t tell anybody, that’s a sexual secret. The event has taken place and only you know about it and you have ministered to yourself in exactly the way you wanted to and thought of exactly what you wanted to think about. And each of these thousands of times you have come alone constitutes a perfectly unique moment, with precisely this order of images and that fold of yourself being moved by your middle finger in just that way and that biting of lower lip with exactly that degree of force, all entirely private.” (Nicholson Baker, from Vox)
We have done as much with the matter of birth and parenting, dividing ourselves into different teams – pro-Thisers or pro-Thaters – with no middle ground, as there seldom is in matters of life and death. The debate is controlled by the extremes, each side shouting answers and accusations over the heads of the people in between, who are kept from formulating questions by the din of the argument all around them. Each paints the other with a broader brush. Each has an arsenal of names and adjectives to deploy against the other side. No one listens. Everyone screams. (Thomas Lynch, from The Undertaking)