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Category Archives: turn of phrase

“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”

“Praise their ignorance, my sister sings.
Praise their fear, I sing.
Praise their hatred.
Praise their envy.
Praise their bitter grief.
Praise them and put them aside.
They are eating the last tainted bread of the earth.
Praise their unhappy fate.
And praise their hours of joy.
Praise their good work.
And praise the sickness of children.
Praise all the tumors.
And praise the bad blood.
Praise the tired livers.
Praise the ailing spleens.
And praise the high colonic ruin.
Praise the drowning waters.
And all the drowned beneath them…”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“The whiteness of the page before it is written on and after it is erased is and is not the same white, and the silence before a word is spoken and after is and is not the same silence.”

– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“We poets knock upon the silence for an answering music.”

– Lu Chi

“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

“Death is not a bad joke if told the right way.”

– Yiyun Li, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

“Some languages kept the ideas of desire and privation apart, but English forced them into the naked intimacy of a single syllable: want. Wanting love to ease the want of love. The war on want which made one want more.”

– Edward St Aubyn, Mother’s Milk

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

– Samuel Beckett

“Happiness writes white.”

– Montherlant

“The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Inelegantly and without my consent, time passed.”

– Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You

“Omnipotence-induced nausea washes over Stone.”

– Richard Powers, Generosity: An Enhancement