1. Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.

    Donna Tartt, The Secret History
  2. “The Roman genius, and perhaps the Roman flaw,” he said, “was an obsession with order. One sees it in their architecture, their literature, their laws—this fierce denial of darkness, unreason, chaos.” He laughed. “Easy to see why the Romans, usually so tolerant of foreign religions, persecuted the Christians mercilessly—how absurd to think a common criminal had risen from the dead, how appalling that his followers celebrated him by drinking his blood. The illogic of it frightened them and they did everything they could to crush it. In fact, I think the reason they took such drastic steps was because they were not only frightened but also terribly attracted to it. Pragmatists are often strangely superstitious. For all their logic, who lived in more abject terror of the supernatural than the Romans? “The Greeks were different. They had a passion for order and symmetry, much like the Romans, but they knew how foolish it was to deny the unseen world, the old gods. Emotion, darkness, barbarism”.

    Donna Tartt, The Secret History
  3. Reality demands
    that we also mention this:
    Life goes on.
    It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
    at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

    There’s a gas station
    on a little square in Jericho,
    and wet paint
    on park benches in Bila Hora.
    Letters fly back and forth
    between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
    a moving van passes
    beneath the eye of the lion at Chaeronea,
    and the blooming orchards near Verdun
    cannot escape
    the approaching atmospheric front.

    There is so much Everything
    that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
    Music pours
    from the yachts moored at Actium
    and couples dance on the sunlit decks.

    So much is always going on,
    that it must be going on all over.
    Where not a stone still stands,
    you see the Ice Cream Man
    besieged by children.
    Where Hiroshima had been
    Hiroshima is again,
    producing many products
    for everyday use.
    This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
    of the mornings
    that make waking up worthwhile.

    The grass is green
    on Maciejowice’s fields,
    and it is studded with dew,
    as is normal grass.

    Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
    those we remember
    and those that are forgotten:
    the birch forests and the cedar forests,
    the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
    and the canyons of black defeat,
    where now, when the need strikes, you don’t cower
    under a bush but squat behind it.

    What moral flows from this? Probably none.
    Only that blood flows, drying quickly,
    and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.

    On tragic mountain passes
    the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
    and we can’t help
    laughing at that.

    Wisława Szymborska

  4. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
    Its lovliness increases; it will never
    Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
    A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
    Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
    Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
    A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
    Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
    Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
    Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways
    Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
    Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
    From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
    Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
    For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
    With the green world they live in; and clear rills
    That for themselves a cooling covert make
    ‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
    Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
    And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
    We have imagined for the mighty dead;
    An endless fountain of immortal drink,
    Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

    John Keats

  5. Il a mis le café
    Dans la tasse
    Il a mis le lait
    Dans la tasse de café
    Il a mis le sucre
    Dans le café au lait
    Avec la petite cuiller
    Il a tourné
    Il a bu le café au lait
    Et il a reposé la tasse
    Sans me parler
    Il a allumé
    Une cigarette
    Il a fait des ronds
    Avec la fumée
    Il a mis les cendres
    Dans le cendrier
    Sans me parler
    Sans me regarder
    Il s’est levé
    Il a mis
    Son chapeau sur sa tête
    Il a mis
    Son manteau de pluie
    Parce qu’il pleuvait
    Et il est parti
    Sous la pluie
    Sans une parole
    Sans me regarder
    Et moi j’ai pris
    Ma tête dans ma main
    Et j’ai pleuré.

    Jacques Prévert

  6. After the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC, the Greek commander set up an inscription at Delphi: “Pausanias, leader of the Greeks, when he destroyed the army of the Persians, dedicated this memorial to Apollo.” He was ordered to remove it, and told he could put it up again when he had defeated the Persians single-handedly.

    J. C. McKeown, The 9/11 memorial and the Aeneid
  7. Summer is late, my heart.
    Words plucked out of the air
    some forty years ago
    when I was wild with love
    and torn almost in two
    scatter like leaves this night
    of whistling wind and rain.
    It is my heart that’s late,
    it is my song that’s flown.
    Outdoors all afternoon
    under a gunmetal sky
    staking my garden down,
    I kneeled to the crickets trilling
    underfoot as if about
    to burst from their crusty shells;
    and like a child again
    marveled to hear so clear
    and brave a music pour
    from such a small machine.
    What makes the engine go?
    Desire, desire, desire.
    The longing for the dance
    stirs in the buried life.
    One season only,
    and it’s done.
    So let the battered old willow
    thrash against the windowpanes
    and the house timbers creak.
    Darling, do you remember
    the man you married? Touch me,
    remind me who I am.

    Stanley Kunitz (source: kateopolis)

  8. The emergence of the welfare state was therefore a more or less inevitable result of popular democracy under the impact of total war. If the welfare state has become controversial in recent times it is not because it is a departure from some natural idea of government. It is rather because it has expanded in a way that undermines its own legitimacy. As we know from both the American and the European examples, welfare policies may lead to the creation of a socially dysfunctional underclass. Sustained without work or responsibilities from generation to generation, people lose the habit of accounting to others, turn their backs on freedom, and become locked in social pathologies that undermine the cohesion of society.

    That result is the opposite of the one intended, and came about in part because of the liberal mind-set, which believes that only the wealthy are accountable, since only they are truly free. The poor, the indigent, and the vulnerable are, on the liberal view, inherently blameless, and nothing bad that arises from their conduct can really be laid at their door. They are not responsible for their lives, since they have not been “empowered” to be responsible. Responsibility for their condition lies with the state.

    Roger Scruton, The Good Government
  9. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 B.C.E.) provided a four-step program that, in one swoosh, eliminates any anxiety about death itself and worry about the prospect of an afterlife:

    1. Do not believe in God, or the gods. There is no good evidence for their existence, and worrying about them and their judgments is therefore a waste of energy.

    2. Do not give any thought to what happens after death. Oblivion follows death, in which you will return to the same state in which you existed before you were born.

    3. Take your mind off pain. Two things only can follow from pain: Either it will go away, or it will get worse and worse and you will die, after which oblivion will follow.

    4. Do not seek fame, power, money, or extravagant luxuries. All disappoint, and none finally yields satisfaction.

    Joseph Epstein, Death Takes No Holiday
  10. The sense of danger must not disappear:
    The way is certainly both short and steep,
    However gradual it looks from here;
    Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

    Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
    And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
    It is not the convention but the fear
    That has a tendency to disappear.

    The worried efforts of the busy heap,
    The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
    Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
    Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

    The clothes that are considered right to wear
    Will not be either sensible or cheap,
    So long as we consent to live like sheep
    And never mention those who disappear.

    Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
    But to rejoice when no one else is there
    Is even harder than it is to weep;
    No one is watching, but you have to leap.

    A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
    Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
    Although I love you, you will have to leap;
    Our dream of safety has to disappear.

  11. At a refugee community in Onagawa, an old neighbour would appear in the living rooms of the temporary houses, and sit down for a cup of tea with their startled occupants. No one had the heart to tell her that she was dead; the cushion on which she had sat was wet with seawater.

    Richard Lloyd Parry, Ghosts of the Tsunami
  12. I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.
    In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.

    Siegfried Sassoon

  13. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

    Albert Camus, The Myth of Sysiphus
  14. For art historian Arnold Hauser, ‘The fundamentally new element in the renaissance conception of art is the discovery of the concept of genius; it was a concept unknown and indeed inconceivable in the medieval world-view, which recognised no value in intellectual originality and spontaneity, recommended imitation, considered plagiarism quite permissible, and disregarded intellectual competition. The idea of the genius was of course the logical result of the new cult of the individual, triumphing in free competition in a free market.

    Peter Watson, Ideas a History
  15. To begin with, in the early days of printing, authors were not paid by publishers. They received several free copies of their works and would send them to rich patrons, with elaborate dedications, in the hope of receiving payment in that way. As often as not this worked and ‘as few authors starved as later’. Some authors were forced to agree with their publishers to buy so many copies of their own books, as did the author Serianus who in 1572 bought 186 copies (out of an edition of 300) of his Commentarii in Levitici Librum. By the end of the sixteenth, and certainly by the start of the seventeenth century, however, the modern practice had been introduced, of authors selling their manuscripts to publishers. As reading became more common, and more and more copies of books were sold, advances went up and by the seventeenth century they could be considerable (reaching, in France for example, tens of thousands of francs).

    Peter Watson, Ideas a History


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