Saturday, December 29, 2007

You must provide yourself with a good deal of extraneous matter, which you are to produce occasionally, so as to fill up the time; for you must consider, that they do not listen much. If you begin with the strength of your cause, it may be lost before they begin to listen. When you catch a moment of attention, press the merits of the question upon them."

Samuel Johnson to James Boswell, in his The Life of Samuel Johnson, upon being asked for advice on how to speak to the House of Commons.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The world has few greater pleasures than that which two friends enjoy, in tracing back, at some distant time, those transactions and events through which they have passed together.

Samuel Johnson to James Boswell, in his The Life of Samuel Johnson

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Faced with lies
Don't you think that you just lie?

The Secret Machines, Faded Lines

Friday, October 26, 2007

Outsiders find themselves hard pressed to explain the political passions of the Serbs. Having reduced complex political relations to vulgar, petty squabbles, the Serb is not inclined to weigh the contradictions between individual and common interests in the most efficient and just manner. Lust for power, a Byzantine brand of power, in a form limited by no constraints whatsoever, informs the vision of each and every political hack and local government agent as much as it moves the prime minister and leader of the opposition. Politics in Yugoslavia are not conducted for the purpose of achieving some tangible goal...[but] so that the parties can harangue one another to the point of exhaustion, or lunacy.

Slobodan Selenic, Fathers and Forefathers

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Human thinking develops in leaps. Such a leap may germinate for a while in our subconscious, but then it happens in a flash, like an epiphany....Duration is in fact a state of constant flux. There is no spiritual state identical to itself from minute to minute. With each new moment, something has been added to the one before. As he endures, a man is constantly shaping a new self. A person can stop changing only when he stops existing. Though my memory is constantly nudging thoughts, feelings, wishes, from the just abandoned past into the emerging present, I am not aware of this. The changes are too minuscule for my crude perceptive apparatus, and the weight of personal dogma too great to acquiesce without resistance. So it is only when the outcome of the change is noticeable, and when the contradictions inherent to my thinking and behavior have reshaped and reconciled themselves to a new sequence, at last, with some semblance of harmony, that I register the change as a shift from one state of mind to another.

Slobodan Selenic, Fathers and Forefathers

Friday, October 19, 2007

No man may place his hopes in anyone but God and his own hands.

A Balkan proverb, as quoted in Father and Forefathers by Slobodan Selenic.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fear always runs the State Department. They always follow what they are most afraid of.

Averell Harriman, as quoted by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, New York Review of Books of October 11, 2007.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

[T]he main purpose of human association was to share enjoyment of the world's absurdity.

Auberon Waugh on his father Evelyn as quoted by John Banville in "The Family Pinfold," New York Review of Books of June 28, 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

I always fare the best with my innocuousness, which is up to 20 percent conscious. This is easily attained when you're indifferent to the feelings of your dear fellow humans—but you are never as indifferent to them as they deserve.

Albert Einstein as quoted by Lee Smolin in "The Other Einstein" on how he keeps his cool, in the New York Review of Books, June 14, 2007.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The security of a position depends less on the elaborate construction of its approach routes and the depths of the firing trench than on the freshness and undiminished courage of the men defending it.

Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel

Monday, September 03, 2007

...and it seemed to me that while we would never find answers to these fundamental questions, it was good for us to ask them anyway; that true happiness and meaning resided in places we would never find and perhaps did not wish to find.

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories of a City

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The first thing I learned at school was that some people are idiots; the second thing I learned was that some are even worse.

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories of a City

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

By doing what was necessary to keep the settlers alive, John Smith became the person most feared by investors and bureaucrats through the ages: the man on the scene who does not hesitate to exceed his instructions.

Edmund S. and Marie Morgan, “Our Shaky Beginning’s,” NYRB of April 26, 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Our thoughts are just the building material with which we construct a house around ourselves to protect us and separate us from the world. It is unfortunate that they cannot do so, for they are soft and flexible and not intended for this. What the purpose of thought is we have not yet determined.

Milorad Pavic, Unique Item

Monday, June 04, 2007

E-mail isn’t the most self-conscious medium; haste and volume encourage many correspondents to forget themselves. Still, everyone settles on a style. The lower-case non-punctuators, the serial capitalizers, the rhetorical questioners, the subpoena-anticipators, the posterity-watchers: they all have their reasons, and their conceits.

Nick Paumgarten, “Elements of E-Style,” The New Yorker of April 16, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Man is damned, and regrets all the paths he never took.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Governance, as Shakespeare imagines it, is an immense weight whose great emblem is the insomnia that afflicts the competent [and] tough-minded.

Stephen Greenblatt, "Shakespeare & the Uses of Power," New York Review of Books (April 12, 2007)

Friday, May 11, 2007

A man isn’t a tree, and being settled in one place is his misfortune. …Digging oneself in marks the real beginning of old age, because a man is young as long as he isn’t afraid to make new beginnings.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Thursday, May 10, 2007

We often spin like weathervanes, unsure of our positions, mad with insecurity. We vacillate between despair and the wish for peace and don’t know what is ours. It’s difficult to stop at either end, to embrace only one side, but that’s what we need to do. Any decision, except the one that will disturb our conscience, is better than the sense of disorientation with which indecision bestows us. But the decision shouldn’t be hurried; it should just be helped to develop. When the time comes. Friends can ease the pain of making a decision, but no more.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Life always sinks downward. It takes effort to avoid that. The idea drags it down because it begins to contradict itself. And then a new idea is developed, an opposing one, and it is good until it begins to be turned into reality. What is, is not good; what is good is what is desired. When people come across a pretty thought they should keep it under glass, so it won’t get dirty.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Friday, May 04, 2007

Life is life, one is just like another, everyone seeks happiness, but troubles come on their own.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It is difficult until you make up your mind, all obstacles seem impassable, all difficulties insurmountable. But once you shrug off your indecision, when you defeat your faintheartedness, then unimagined paths open up in front of you, and the world is no longer cramped and threatening. I imagined heroic feats, discovering many an opportunity for genuine courage, prepared tricks that would have deceived even the greatest caution. And I became more excited and agitated as I became more certain, in the depths of my heart and in the remote folds of my brain, that all of this was just empty dreaming…. My hidden instincts, which protected me even without my conscious will, generously granted me such beautiful, noble thoughts, without curtailing them: they knew these thoughts were not dangerous, that they could not turn into deeds.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Human thought is an unsteady wave that is stirred and calmed by the capricious winds of fear or desire.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Thursday, April 19, 2007

We are not aware when new beginnings arrive; we only discover them later when they have already engulfed us, when everything merely continues. Then we believe that everything could have been different, but it could not have.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Monday, April 16, 2007

Everything changes when a man loses his bearings.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I think it was at this period that my own talk began to upset me. The words I uttered seemed like false smiles I was displaying at a party I’d gone to against my will. Sometimes I would overhear myself in the act of speech, like a man who suddenly sees himself in a mirror. Then I grew afraid….I began to wonder whether anything I had ever said was what I had wanted to say. I began to wonder whether anything I had ever written was what I had wanted to write, or whether what I had wanted to write was underneath, trying to push its way through….Sometimes I imagine that if we were very still we could hear, rising from the forests and oceans, the quiet laughter of animals, as they listen to us talk….I had thought that words were instruments of precision. Now I know that they devour the world, leaving nothing in its place.

Steven Millhauser, History of A Disturbance in the New Yorker of March 5, 2007

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from low spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now uniformly placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any perturbation. "Sir, (said Johnson,) this is only a disordered imagination taking a different turn."

James Boswell in his The Life of Samuel Johnson

Saturday, March 31, 2007

I began my fickle refutation…with pleasure, realizing maybe for the first time that the heavens and the secrets of the universe, that the secrets of death and existence were the most convenient region into which one could escape from the cares of this world. If they did not exist, one would need to invent them as a refuge.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nothing would improve if things were different in our lives.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

(Or as Buckeroo Banzai once put it, no matter where you go, there you are.)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I would often say:

Death is a change of state. The soul begins to live by itself. Until it parted from the body, it held with hands, saw with eyes, heard with ears, but it knew the heart of the matter on its own.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish
The river resembles me: sometimes turbulent and foaming, more often calm and inaudible. I was sorry when they dammed it up below the tekke and diverted it into a trench to make it obedient and useful, so it would run through a trough and drive a mill wheel. And I was happy when it swelled, destroyed the dam, and flowed free. I knew all the while that only tamed waters can mill wheat.

Mesa Selimovic, Death and the Dervish

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Against the vast background of the deserted land he saw his insignificance only too clearly--a vain, petty man, envious and scheming, an opportunist, a fraud.... What had he done with his life--other than seek a transient peace between the legs of women. He had, in order to live another day, and then another, served the people who now did what they did and who would, he knew for a certainty, do what they would do.

Alan Furst, Dark Star

Friday, February 02, 2007

There are doors that let you in
And out
But never open.

Radionhead, "Pull / Pulk Revolving Doors," Amnesiac

Friday, January 19, 2007

To have defended ourselves when we didn’t need to is one of the first things for which we need to forgive ourselves--as well as others.

Mutual Injury and Mutual Acknowledgement (Lecture in Honor of Andrew Samuels, World in Transition Conference, London, October 2006), Jessica Benjamin.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Instincts are misleading
You shouldn't think what you're feeling
They don't tell you what you know you should want.

Death Cab for Cutie, "Lightness", Transatlanticism