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Category Archives: imagery

“There is a rhythm – and you know this – to which people move in any great public space. There is a certain speed that is no one’s decision but is set going every day, soon after dawn. Break the rhythm and you’ll rue it… It occurred to me for the first time that this rhythm is a mystery indeed, controlled not by the railways or the citizens but by a higher power: that it is an aid to dissimulation, a guide to those who would otherwise not know how to act.

“For how many of all these surging thousands are solid, and how many of these assumptions are tricks of the light? How many, I ask you, are connected at all points, how many are utterly and convincingly in the state they purport to be: which is, alive? How many?

“For distinguish me, will you? Distinguish me ‘the distinguished thing.’ Render me the texture of flesh. Pick me what it is, in the timbre of the voice, that marks out the living from the dead. Show me a bone that you know to be a living bone. Flourish it, will you? Find one, and show me.”

– Hilary Mantel, “Terminus”


“Down below there was only a vast white sea of cloud and he realized that he did not know where he was.

“It’ll be the Channel, he thought. I’m sure to fall in the drink.

“He throttled back, pulled off his helmet, undid his straps, and pushed the stick hard over to the left. The Spitfire dipped its port win gand turned smoothly over on to its back. The pilot fell out.

“As he fell, he opened his eyes, because he knew that he must not pass out before the had pulled the cord. On one side he saw the sun; on the other he saw the whiteness of the clouds, and as he feell, as he somersaultedin the air, the white clouds chased the sun and the sun chased the clouds. They chased each other in a small circle; they ran faster and faster and there was the sun and the clouds and the clouds and the sun, and the clouds cmae nearer until suddenly there was no longer any sun but only a great whiteness. The whole world was white and there was nothing in it. It was so white that sometimes it looked black, and after a time it was either white or black, but mostly it was white. He watched it as it turned from white to black, then back to white again, and the white stayed for a long time, but the black lasted only a few seconds. He got into the habit of going to sleep during the white periods, of waking up justin time to see the world when it was black. The black was very quick. Sometimes it was only a flash, a flash of black lightning. The white was slow and in the slowness of it, he always dozed off.

“One day, when it was white, he put out a hand and he touched something. He took it between his fingers and curmpled it. For a time he lay there, idly letting the tips of his fingers play with the thing which they had touched. Then slowly he opened his eyes, looked down at his hand and saw that he was holding something which was white. It was the edge of a sheet.”

– Roald Dahl, “Beware of the Dog”

“…I turned around and saw the sky. It was read and all my life was in it.”

– Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

“…then I slept. When I woke, it was a different sea.”

– Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

“The hurricane months are not so far away, I thought, and saw that tree strike its roots deeper, making ready to fight the wind. Useless. If and when it comes they’ll all go… The bamboos take an easier way, they bend to the earth and lie there, creaking, groaning, crying for mercy. The contempuous wind passes, not caring for these abject things. (Let them live.) Howling, shrieking, laughing, the wild blast passes.

“…I think of my revenge and hurricanes. Words rush through my head (heeds too). Words. Pity is one of them… Pity like a naked newborn babe striding the blast.”

– Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

“They cry out in the wind that is their voice, they rage in the sea that is their anger.”

– Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

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

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

“The first two rooms she looked in were empty. But in the room called Sage she found all three anorexics gathered together vomiting in the moonlight. Their families were all gone; none of them had been the sort to get many visitors, especially during bad weather. They had only each other and Thelma, whose great wonderful fatness they could look at no longer than they could stare into the sun. They restricted more and more, and as the weeks passed began to binge, something all three, high, pure anorexics, who had defeatedt their bodies by becoming creatures of pure will, would have disdained in the dry world…

“By the time Jemma visited them they had made themselves ghastly-beautiful. From the door she saw them gathered under the window, around a plastic tub that stored toys by the bushel in the playrooms. They held hands and brusehd up against one another languidly, arching their necks and throwing back their heads to swallow their fingers before adding another unit of barf to the big bucket. They were surrounded by the remains of their feast, vanilla-ice-cream puddles glowing in glass dishes shaped like leaves; candy-bar wrappers in neat heaps; chicken skin and chicken fat glistening in patches aorund them in a circle, and bones under their feet. Jemma trod on two large cupcakes as she approached them, her green hands clasped behind her back. They did not notice her until she ws quite close. their pajamas, altered, short, hanging dresses of sage, pumpkin, and ocher, and their hair, brittle but long and styled with particular care into identical sets of heaped and cascading curls, their dramatic poses, their bare feet among bones, their long, sharp nails, and finally their number all gave them an ancient Greek air; though they were exquisitely frail, and close to dying, they seemed as powerful as they were pathetic, three purgies discharging their eternal duty. Jemma, nearly upon them, felt a little afraid, but still laughed out loud. They all turned at once, and spoke from left to right.

” ‘It’s a stomach flu,’ said the first one, defiantly. ‘Who are you?’ asked the second, more meek. The third, finger in mouth, merely stared.

” ‘I am the great fatty,’ Jemma announced, then brought her hands forward, and struck. Green fire spilled into the air as she grabbed at them. They all shrieked identically, and tried to escape, but she was too close for them to eavde her, and they were too weak to break away. They were so thin she could hold all of them in her arms. In three blows she made them right, all four of them burning together. First she restored their organs, heart and lungs and guts ruined with months of self-consumption; no sooner had she wanted it done than it was done, the three girly shrieks climbing into song as Jemma pushed with her mind and her spirit. Then she restored their flesh. She filled them with fire that burned for an instant and was gone, leaving muscle and fat in its place; they popped out of her arms, but remained bound to her by fire. Lastly she restored their minds – already they felt covered with abomination. She weeded their brains, reaching in with fire fingers to rip out that perception; right or wrong, truth or distortion, it was hers to command, and must come out with her, and when she commanded it to scatter on the dark air it must do it.

“When she released them they threw up their arms, as if in praise or surrender, and then fell to the ground, strong bones cushioned by newly upholstered fat. She left them sleeping beside the vomit tub, scattering candy wrappers back and forth between them with their breath. She wiped her feet and moved on.”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“Does shock have term limits? As one can become habituated to horror in real life, one can become habituated to the horror of certain images.

“Yet there are cases where repeated exposure to what shocks, saddens, appalls does not use up a full-hearted response. Habituation is not automatic, for images obey different rules than real life… People want to weep. Pathos, in the form of a narrative, does not wear out.

“Harrowing photographs do not inevitably lose their power to shock. But they are not much help if the task is to understand. Narratives can make us understand. Photographs do something else: they haunt us.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

” ‘You still believe heartbreak should burn like a star?’

‘I do. But stars can explode, disappear. What we see when we look at them may no longer be there. Some could have died thousands of years ago and we’re just now getting their light. Old information looking like news.”

– Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

“Then grant that I may follow
Your gleam, O glorious Light,
Till earthly shadows scatter,
And faith is changed to sight…”

– Ernest E Ryden, “O Lord Now Let Your Servant”

“…surfers found themselves getting up early to watch the dawn weirdness, which seemed like a visible counterpart to the feeling in everybody’s skin of desert winds and heat and relentlessness, with the exhaust from millions of motor vehicles mixing with microfine Mojave sand to refract the light toward the bloody end of the spectrum, everything dim, lurid and biblical, sailor-take-warning skies. Jets were taking off the wrong way from the airport, the engine sounds were not passing across the sky where they should have, so everybody’s dreams got disarranged, when people could get to sleep at all. In the little apartment complexes the wind entered narrowing to whistle through the stairwells and ramps and catwalks, and the leaves of the palm trees outside rattled together with a liquid sound, so that from inside, in the darkened rooms, in louvered light, it sounded like a rainstorm, the wind raging in the concrete geometry, the palms beating together like the rush of a tropical downpour, enough to get you to open the door and look outside, and of course there’d only be the same ho cloudless depth of day, no rain in sight.”

– Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

“…the true and unendurable color of daylight.”

– Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

“Back in the swamp it was just coming light, like grey polish on the cold world, the air so still Archie could see the tiny breath cloud of a finch on a willow twig.”

– Annie Proulx, “Them Old Cowboy Songs,” Fine Just the Way It Is

“I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys.

“There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow…

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.

“I am, I am, I am.”

– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“The room blued into view, and I wondered where the night had gone. My mother turned from a foggy log into a slumbering, middle-aged woman…”

– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“In their homelands, they were West Africans and West Europeans whose identities were determined by culture, heritage, region, but in this mixed new country, skin itself has currency as meaning, and they become black and whites. the whites who were at the bottom of the social ladder in Europe now have someone lower than them, and a lot of them seem to like it that way; they live for centuries in highly structured suspicion and interconnection.

“The ballads and rhythms of their musics mix with least inhibition, and in the twentieth century new indigenous musics evolve, out of the red dirt, the strong African and maybe Native American beats and rhythms, the Celtic melancholy, into the hillbilly music cleaned up as country and western, and into blues and rhythm and blues. They all dovetail as rock and roll, a medium that spreads less like imperialism than like the potato and becomes a local crop all over the world, particularly the English-speaking world, a local crop that expresses the insurrection of the young against tradition and authority, of the margin against the center, and that sometimes becomes an institution itself, like U2 in Ireland. The melancholy and the exuberance of slaves and outsiders have come, or come back, to Ireland.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“The last display in this inanimate animal kingdom brought me back to Swift and his speculations on the human animal and its place on earth, or lack thereof. In the very back of the Natural History Museum in Dublin, the last case you’d come to, were four skeletons: a chimpanzee, an ‘Orang Utan,’ a gorilla, and a man… The apes were propped up by black rods attached to their spines and bolted to the floor, but the man was suspended from the ceiling by a golden chain attached to his skull with a wing nut. The installation seemed to propose that human and ape anatomies are analogous, but their essences are utterly different, that animals rise from the earth, but humans dangle from the heavens like God’s puppets, touching the ground but disconnected from it, strangers on earth.

On a little glass shelf above the chimp, the lacy bones of a tiny white-handed gibbons’ upright and humanlike skeleton presided, like a fanged angel with arms that reached its ankles.

“The suspension of the human skeleton gave visible form to what perhaps changed when upright across the land in the tenuous balance of bipedalism, their eyes focus on the distances that hardly exist in forests… The skeleton dangled as though it belonged to the sky and needed to grow the wings most bipeds have, to lift further from the ground of its origins; or it dangled with its feet just scraping the floor of the case as though it needed to come back to earth, as though with its straight treelike body it needed to put down roots, to solidify. It seemed to me that human beings when they became upright aspired to two conditions: becoming birds or becoming trees, wanderers or settlers, oscillating between their roots and their wings, exiled whichever way they turned.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“A runner’s every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds. For my friends who run long distances, these tiny fragments of levitation add up to something considerable; by their own power they hover above the earth for many minutes, perhaps some significant portion of an hour or perhaps far more for the hundred-mile races. We fly; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.”

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

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths… This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

“The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.”

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