Skip navigation

“Nor the police, hyenas on hearing five confessions, four false and
one too irresistible. Nor the mental-health elephant, tusked by the state.
Nor the common-sense stork twisting at the prosecutor’s feet. Nor the one
the one juror, uneasy facing eleven pale sheep that bay all day
all night for conviction. Nor the Governor, sir! Nor the common-sense
stork, now in a knot. Nor the shots. Nor the clause, unbending. Nor
the clause, bending. Nor, seeing his fitful approach, did one turn back
to flip the window latch for the lifeform nearly breaking himself on glass.
Nor the next Governor. Nor the state—carriage horses trotting ever
steady blinders acute to the eye. Nor the widower how could he, puma
in pull-focus. Nor the defense counsel, not for lack of it. Nor the stork,
is she breathing? Is there such a thing as breathing here and does it mean—?
The polyester the royal blue the blanket on the bed of the mother of two.”

– Zoe Hitzig

“Far from being a child of nature, the West was actually given birth by modern technology and bears all the scars of that fierce gestation, like a baby born of an addict.”

– Donald Worster

“The seashore is an edge, perhaps the only true edge in the world whose borders are otherwise mostly political fictions, and it defies the usual idea of borders by being unfixed, fluctuant, and infinitely permeable. The seashore is the place that is no place, sometimes solid land or, rather, sand, sometimes the shallow fringe of that huge body of water governed by the remote body of the moon in a mystery something like love or desire…

“The sea lapping like a cat at a saucer of milk, or rather, since it is the liquid which acts, the sea like a vast saucer of milk lapping at a recumbent cat. The sea laps at the land, or the sea is in the lap of the land…

“The sea that always seems like a metaphor, but one that is always moving, cannot be fixed, like a heart that is like a tongue that is like a mystery that is like a story that is like a border that is like something altogether different and like everything at once. One thing leads to another, and this is the treasure that always runs through your fingers and never runs out.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Seashell to Ear”

“When the Spanish laid out cities in the Americas, they began with the plaza. Every place had a center, and when a place has a center, you know where you are. What terrifies me about sprawl is the sense that there are no centers and no edges, just a random quilt of strip malls and subdivisions all the way to the horizon. Such places make me feel adrift, without a sense of meaning or direction. I’ve always thought that San Francisco’s livelier public life wasn’t about our virtue, just our geography, symbolic and practical. We’re full of centers and boulevards, starting points, destinations, and alluring routes between them. The place just seems to encourage marching and gathering and walking. This might be what people mean when they call San Francisco the country’s most European city…

“Cities are where people are citizens, where they coexist in public, generating that public life so vital to a democracy, which depends on our sense of connection and trust in strangers, who become less strange when we move among them every day. Too many American cities are just vast suburbs, with people segregated by race, income, and avocation, and by their dependence on private automobiles to get around. Even in true cities, democracy, citizenship, public life can be just words. But in UN Plaza, you can stand and look east at TRUTH or west past Bolivar to image the curve of the earth over the blue horizon toward Asia; or you can just look your fellow human beings in the eye and know that you’re a citizen, of a city, of a state, of the world.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Heart of the City”

“We have to keep fighting, because otherwise there will be no future – all will be consumed. Those of us whose ancestors were owned and bred like animals know that future all too well, because it is, in part, our past. And we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe. Our ancestors did this with very little, and we who have more must do the same. This is the joyous destiny of our people – to bury the arc of the moral universe so deep in justice that it will never be undone.”

– Junot Diaz

“The rain intensified as we marched from Union Square to Trump Tower… A sign floated above the crowd, flashing red, white and blue in the reflection of police lights: ‘Why Don’t Sexual Assault Victims Come Forward? Because Sometimes We Make Their Attackers the Leader of the Free World.’

“…my freedom was always conditional, and perhaps never very important to anyone but me. I’m afraid that the empathy and respect that I have always had to display to survive as a woman of color will never be required from men or from whites. I understand, now, that I mistook a decrease in active interference for progress toward a world in which my personhood was seen as inextricable from everyone else’s.”

– Jia Tolentino

“It was the Klan’s job to rescue white women from the black devils who were trying to rape them and create a mongrel race. The reality is that mixed-race Americans were largely the result of the cream being poured into the coffee, as it were, and not the other way around. But this lie – the myth of the black sexual predator – was powerful…”

– Larry Wilmore

“Speaking’s just a form of thinking and he must be as stupid as he appears.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

“This too solid stench feeds the timid mice behind the skirting and swells them to rats.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

“I’ve heard it argued that long ago pain begat consciousness. To avoid serious damage a simple creature needs to evolve the whips and goads of a subjective loop, of a felt experience. Not just a red warning light in the head – who’s there to see it? – but a sing, an ache, a throb that hurts. Adversity forced awareness on us, and it works, it bities us when we go too near the fire, when we love too hard. Those felt sensations are the beginning of the invention of the self. And if that works, why not feeling disgust for shit, fearing the cliffedge and strangers, remembering insults and favours, liking sex and food? God said, Let there be pain. And there was poetry. Eventually.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

“At the base of the immense pillar, tiny Babylon was in shadow. Then the darkness climbed the tower, like a canopy unfurling upward. It moved slowly enough that Hillalum felt he could count the moments passing, but then it grew faster as it approached, until it raced past them faster than he could blink, and they were in twilight.

“Hillalum rolled over and looked up, in time to see darkness rapidly ascend the rest of the tower. Gradually, the sky grew dimmer as the sun sank beneath the edge of the world, far away.

“…For the first time, he knew night for what it was: the shadow of the earth itself, cast against the sky.”

– Ted Chiang, “Tower of Babylon”

“Today, most politically correct people celebrate the fact of racial, ethnic, or religious differences, but we do not believe in them as our humanist ancestors did. We focus on toleration, particularly on the rights of people who differ from us, but toleration can be itself a form of mutual indifference, leaving one another alone, each in his or her own sphere, as a version of getting along together. Our humanist forebears, particularly those of a practical bent, thought of difference, as it were, making more of a difference. True, the differences they had in mind were different views of material things and what could be done with them. True, also, the early modern era imposed its own Christian culture on the peoples outside Europe it subjugated or enslaved. But the technological and scientific mentality of humanism formulated a simple precept about the experience of difference that, I think, remains powerful in thinking about alternatives to the mere toleration of cultural differences today.

“The precept was that informal, open-ended cooperation is how best to experience difference. Each of the terms in this precept mattters. ‘Informal’ means that contacts between people of differing skills or interests are rich when messy, weak when they become regulated, like boring meetings run strictly on formal rules of order. ‘Open-ended’ means you want to find out what another person is about without knowing where it will lead; put another way, you want to avoid the iron rule of utility that establishes a fixed goal – a product, a policy objective – in advance. ‘Cooperation’ is the simplest and most important term. You suppose that different parties all gain by exchanging rather than one part gaining at the exense of others.”

– Richard Sennett, “Humanism”

“…objects help us exorcise some of our fears… they are stronger than we are, perfect and independent… they give us a semblance of permanence and grant a stay against chaos, darkness, oblivion.”

– Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough, “Objects of Affection”

“My youthful materialism thrived in a country where materialism – unless of the Marxist variety – was unanimously condemned as the ugly outgrowth of Western consumer societies. We knew this was just an ideological cover-up for the never-ending shortages. My brand of materialism didn’t belong in a consumer society either, because it was a kind of disproportionate attachment to things that was caused by scarcity, something unheard-of in a market economy. I couldn’t want more, new, or better. Such wanting was at best a futile and abstract exercise, so I learned to practice self-limitation.”

– Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough, “Objects of Affection”

“Your professors will give you some fine books to read, and they’ll probably help you understand them. What they won’t do, for reasons that perplex me, is to ask you if the books contain truths you could live your lives by. When you read Plato, you’ll probably learn about his metaphysics and his politics and his way of conceiving the soul. But no one will ask you if his ideas are good enough to believe in… No one will suggest that you might use Plato as your bible for a week or a year or longer. No one, in short, will ask you to use Plato to help you change your life.

“That will be up to you. You must put the question of Plato to yourself…

“Society has a whole cornucopia of resources to encourage you in doing what society needs done but that you don’t much like doing and are not cut out to do. To ease your grief, society offers alcohol, television, drugs, divorce, and buying, buying, buying what you don’t need. But all those, too, have their cons.

“Education is about finding out what form of work for you in close to being play – work you do so easily that it restores you as you go…. Having found what’s best for you to do, you may be surprised how far you rise, how prosperous, even against your own projections, you become…

“These are the kinds of problems that are worth having and if you advance, as Thoreau said, in the general direction of your dreams, you may have them. If you advance in the direction of someone else’s dreams – if you want to live someone else’s life rather than yours – then get a TV for every room, buy yourself a lifetime supply of your favorite quaff, crank up the porn channel, and groove away. But when we expend our energies in rightful ways, Robert Frost observed, we stay whoel and vigorous and we don’t weary. ‘Strongly spent,’ the poet says, ‘is synonymous with kept.”

– Mark Edmunson, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”

“What colleges generally want are well-rounded students, civic leaders, people who know what the system demands, how to keep matters light, not push too hard for an education or anything else; people who get their credentials and leave the professors alone to do their brilliant work, so they may rise and enhance the rankings of the university. Such students leave and become donors and so, in their own turn, contribute immeasurably to the university’s standing. They’ve done a fine job skating on surfaces in high school – the best way to get to an across-the-board outstanding record – and now they’re on campus to cut a few more figure eights.

“In a culture where the major and determining values are monetary, what else could you do? How else would you live if not by getting all you can, succeeding all you can, making all you can?”

– Mark Edmunson, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”

“No one in this picture is evil; no one is criminally irresponsible. It’s just that smart people are prone to look into matters to see how they might go about buttering their toast. Then they butter their toast.”

– Mark Edmunson, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”

“Don’t you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?”

– Calvin Coolidge

“Reality is a very subjective affair. I can only define it as a kind of gradual accumulation of information; and as specialization. If we take a lily, for instance, or any other kind of natural object, a lily is more real to a naturalist than it is to an ordinary person. But it is still more real to a botanist. And yet another stage of reality is reached with that botanist who is a specialist in lilies. You can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality; but you never get near enough because reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. You can know more and more about one thing but you can never know everything about one thing: it’s hopeless.”

– Nabokov

“Neither intellectuals nor philistines, they are the kind to ‘know what they like’ and have the ‘courage of their convictions,’ though their convictions are not entirely their own and their courage mostly fear. They are capable of cruelty born of laziness, but also of an unexpected spiritual greatness born of love.”

– Zadie Smith, “EM Forster, Middle Manager”