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Category Archives: self

“If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they would never have needed to invent and could never have become so dependent on what they still call ‘the Negro problem.’ This problem, which they invented in order to safeguard their purity, has made of them criminals and monsters, and it is destroying them; and this is not from anything blacks may or may not be doing but because of the role a guilty and constricted white imagination has assigned to the blacks. That the scapegoat pays for the sins of others is well known, but this is only legend, and a revealing one at that. In fact, however the scapegoat may be made to suffer, his suffering cannot purify the sinner; it merely incriminates him the more, and it seals his damnation. The scapegoat, eventually, is released, to death: his murderer continues to live. The suffering of the scapegoat has resulted in seas of blood, and yet not one sinner has been saved, or changed, by this despairing ritual. Sin has merely been added to sin, and guilt piled upon guilt. In the private chambers of the soul, the guilty party is identified, and the accusing finger, there, is not legend, but consequence, not fantasy, but the truth. People pay for what they do, and, still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead.”

– James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

“The moral of the story (and the hope of the world) lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself.”

– James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

“No one is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart: for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.”

– James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

“The question of who I was was not solved because I had removed myself from the social forces which menaced me – anyway, these forces had become interior, and I had dragged them across the ocean with me… I could not escape the knowledge that if I was still in need of havens, my journey had been for nothing. Haves are high-priced. The price exacted of teh haven-dweller is that he contrive to delude himself into believing that he has found a haven.”

– James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“What one’s imagination makes of other people is dictated, of course, by the laws of one’s own personality and it is one of the ironies of black-white relations that, by means of what the white man imagines the black man to be, the black man is enabled to know who the white man is.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“The man does not remmeber the hand that struck him, the darkness that frigthened him, as a child; nevertheless, the hand and the darkness remains with him, indivisible from himself forever, part of the passion that drives him wherever he thinks to take flight.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“When it came to her son, Dr James’s country did what it does best – it forgot him. The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of the theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remmber would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream, they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans, and ike all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.

…But you cannot arrange your life around your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness.

…I do not believe that we can stop them because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of the Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“I am black, and have been plundered and have lost my body. But perhaps I too had the capacity for plunder, maybe I would take another human’s body to confirm myself in a community. Perhaps I already had. Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuinate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“…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”

“One of the reasons I feel empty after watching a lot of TV, and one of the things that makes TV seductive, is that it gives the illusion of relationships with people. It’s a way to have people in the room talking and being entertaining, but it doesn’t require anything of me. They’re there for me and I can receive from the TV, I can receive entertainment and stimulation. Without having to give anything back but the most tangential kind of attention.

“The problem is it’s also very empty. Because one of the differences about having a real person there is that number one, I’ve gotta do some work. He pays attention to me, I gotta pay attention to him. I watch him, he watches me. The stress level goes up. But there’s also something nourishing about it, because as creatures, we’ve all got to figure out how to be together in the same room.

“What has happened to us – and I do this too – that I’m willing to derive enormous amounts of my sense of community and awareness of other people, from television? But I’m not willing to undergo the stress and awkwardness and potential shit of dealing with real people.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“What I’m talkin’ about is entertainment versus art, where the main job of entertainment is to separate you from your cash somehow. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It gives you a certain kind of pleasure that I would argue is fairly passive. There’s not a whole lot of thought involved, the thought is often fantasy, like ‘I am this guy, I’m having this adventure.’ And it’s a way to take a vacation from myself for a while. And that’s fine – I think the same way candy is fine.

“We’re absolutely dying to give ourselves away to something. To run, to escape, somehow. And there’s some kinds of escape – in a sort of Flannery O’Connorish way – that end up, in a twist, making you confront yourself even more. And then there are other kinds that say, ‘Give me seven dollars, and in return I will make you forget your name is David Wallace, that you have a pimple on your cheek, and that your gas bill is due.

“And that’s fine, in low doses. But there’s something about the machinery of our relationship to it that makes low doses – we don’t stop at low doses…

“This problem is not gonna go away. In ten or fifteen years, we’re gonna have virtual reality pornography. Now, if I don’t develop some machinery for being able to turn off pure unalloyed pleasure, and allow myself to go out and grocery shop and pay the rent? I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna have to leave the planet. The technology’s gonna get better and better at what it does, which is seduce us into being incredibly dependent on it, so that advertisers can be more confident that we will watch their advertisements. And as a technology system, it’s amoral.

“It doesn’t have a responsibility to care about us one whit more than it does: It’s got a job to do. The moral job is ours. Why am I watching five hours a day of this? Why am I getting 75 percent of my calories from candy? That’s something that a little child would do… Somewhere along the line, we’re supposed to have grown up.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“I think that the ultimate way you and I get lucky is if you have some success early in life, you get to find out early it doesn’t mean anything. Which means you get to start early the work of figuring out what does mean something… What I remember is the times when woring on that book was really hard. And I just gutted it out. And I finished something. And I did it for the book… I feel like I’ve built some muscles inside me that I can now use for the rest of my life. And I know now how to live in such a way that I’m doing it for the work itself.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“You can look to other people’s opinions to help you shape your thesis and to help you see other aspects of an idea you might not have considered. But whenever possible, you need to go to the primary source to make your decisions. Regardless of whether or not you’re a student, it is never enough to rely on other people’s ideas. You have to look at the thing itself and make up your own mind. That’s what it means to study and to learn. Some secondary sources proclaim their points of view so loudly and with such passion you might be tempted just to take their word for it. You might be tempted not to do work of checking for yourself. But there can be a fine line between obediance and laziness, and if you go through life dutifully taking other people’s word about what’s right, you are putting yourself in the position to be led down some very dark roads.”

– Ann Patchett, “The Right to Read”

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experience something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth… What particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.

“Nature expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much…

“Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on both sides of my life. That this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timeless is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage.”

– Nabokov, Speak, Memory

” ‘Who is your audience?’ This is commonly the first questions educators ask about any pedagogical activity in the planning. In art, by contrast, to preestablish an audience is seen by some to restrict a work’s possible impact, which is why many artists are usually reluctant to answer that question about their work.

In the movie Field of Dreams, an Iowa frmer walking through a cornfield suddenly hears a voice saying, ‘If you build it, he will come.’ He envisions a baseball field and is strongly compelled to build it. The phrase has entered the English language in the variation of ‘build it and they will come’ as if it is an adage of ancient wisdom and not from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter. The implied message is that building comes first, audiences second. Yet the opposite is true. We build because audiences exist. We build because we seek to reach out to others, and they will come initially because they recognize themselves in what we have bulit. After that initial interaction, spaces enter a process of self-identification, ownership, and evolution based on group interests and ideas. They are not static spaces for static viewers but ever-evolving, growing or decaying communities that build themselves, develop, and eventually dismantle…

I usually turn the question the other way around: Is it possible to not conceive of an audience for your work, to create an experience that is intended to be public without the slightest bias toward a particular kind of interlocutor, be it a rice farmer in Laos or a professor of philosophy at Columbia University? The debate may boil down to art practice itself and to the common statement by artists that they don’t have a viewer in mind while making their work – in other words, that they only produce for themselves. What is usually not questioned, however, is how one’s notion of one’s self is created. It is the construct of a vast collectivity of people who have influenced one’s thoughts and one’s values, and to speak to one’s self is more than a solipsistic exercise – it is, rather, a silent way of speaking to the portion of civilization that is summarized in our minds.”

– Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art

“…lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness… Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“To feel as if you belong is one of the great triumphs of human existence… But… our sense of slight woundedness around not belonging is actually one of our core competencies; that though the crow is just itself and the stone is just itself and the mountain is just itself, and the cloud, and the sky is just itself — we are the one part of creation that knows what it’s like to live in exile, and that the ability to turn your face towards home is one of the great human endeavors and the great human stories.”

David Whyte

“Most scientists agree that a person’s race is self-identified, and the US census now categorizes people only as they self identify. But our racial categories are so closely policed by the culture at large that it would be much more accurate to say that we are collectively identified. Whenever we range outside the racial identity that has been collectively assigned to us, we are very quickly reminded where we belong.”

– Eula Biss, Notes From No Man’s Land, “Relations”