Skip navigation

Category Archives: epigram

“A ghetto can be improved in one way only: out of existence.”

– James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name


“The reason to have a home is to keep certain people in and everyone else out.”

– Jenny Offill, Dept of Speculation

“Deep experience is never peaceful.”

– Henry James

“Happiness writes white. It does not show up on the page.”

– Henry de Montherlant

“Sentimentality is the enjoyment of emotion for its own sake, a kind of connoisseurship of feelings without the obligation to act on them, the narcissism of the heart.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Being true means nothing in the country of the imagination, and being believed means everything.”

– Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

– Churchill

“There’s a strangely popular subject of speculation for hikers and explorers: whether they were the first people ever to tread on a piece of land. It comes out of the American obsession with virgin wilderness, which is itself a deeply problematic idea, and it speculates about the possibility of the utterly new, of an experience without predecessors.

“It is usually mistaken in its premises. There are few places in North America that were not first walked upon by the indigenous inhabitants of the continent, and even if one were to take out one’s mountaineering gear and reach a peak literally untouched before by human beings, one is making a gesture that depends for its meaning and motives on a long history of such gestures.

“You are covering cultural territory covered by great mountaineers. And the actual act of climbing a mountain depends for its meaning on the romantic cult of mountains, and so even if you have never read Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc,’ you have inherited it, and when you step on that piece of ground, you step where Shelley went, and where a wide road of meaning has been worn since.

“It seems you should know where you came from to understand where you are, and only a true and absolute amnesiac could come from nowhere in arriving somewhere.”

– Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“She offered her friend a selection of aphorisms, axioms and proverbs the truth content of which she could only assume from their common circulation, the way one puts one’s faith in the face value of paper money.”

– Zadie Smith, NW

“Magic is either a poverty-stricken necessity or a wealthy fantasy. We are in neither of those straits, and what cannot be explained will be left unknown.”

– Jesse Ball, The Curfew

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

– James Baldwin

“Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

– Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

“…as in magicians’ tricks or burglaries half-success is failure.”

– Margaret Atwood, Surfacing

“I feel like there is a battle going on all the time between light and dark, and I wonder sometimes if the dark has one more spear.”

– Fred Gwynne

“One does not fight the battles he wishes to fight; he fights the battles that find him.”

– J. Robert Lennon, Castle

“[one] way to describe the apprehension of the whatness of a thing is to say that it is a realization of what the world would look like if you were dead.”

– Louis Menand, “True Story,” The New Yorker

“I’m an optimist who acts like a pessimist… Just in case.”

– Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter

“Let them think what they like, but I didn’t mean to drown myself. I meant to swim til I sank, but that’s not the same thing.”

– Joseph Conrad

“Anything can happen in life, especially nothing.”

– Michel Houellebecq