Paired Quotations

The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For, though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.

Emerson – The Poet

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

Nietzsche – On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense

As an American chauvinist, it bothers me that Emerson isn’t more widely known and respected.

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Being No One

Saul Bellow once wrote

I imagine, sometimes, that if a film could be made of one’s life, every other frame would be death. It goes so fast we’re not aware of it. Destruction and resurrection in alternate beats of being, but speed makes it seem continuous. But you see, with ordinary consciousness you can’t begin to know what’s happening.

From pondering various science fiction thought experiments, a while ago I came to believe that our conscious selves were destroyed by any moment (or solid 8 hours) of unconsciousness, and what was reborn on the other end was a new conscious self. After thinking about this a little, I then moved on to Bellow’s model, where our conscious selves are born and die in micro-seconds, each perturbation and rewiring from inner or outer sensation causing the death of the old self and the birth of the new. In both cases the important part, maybe, is that from the perspective of that old self, these psychic deaths will be indistinguishable from physical death, in that it won’t exist afterwards. Later on, after pondering possible links between autistic lack of self-consciousness and autistic lack of social consciousness and other-mind modeling, along with evolutionary accounts of consciousness in the great apes and some other things I don’t remember, I then decided that (similar to the conceptual leap between making an arbitrary n divisions in a curve to calculate the area beneath it and just integrating it) there really is no such thing as a self that can die, since what we think of as the self is just the result a very advanced ‘consciousness-modeling’ module applying (for obvious evolutionary reasons) its analytical tools to the biological machine in which it’s housed. Also, I want to add that I figured all this out BEFORE I watched True Detective.


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Troll’s Manifesto

The primary level, the lever where the author makes his transformation, utilizes the image of the clown and the fool [that is, a naivete expressed as the inability to understand stupid conventions]. In the struggle against conventions, and against the inadequacy of all available life-slots to fit an authentic human being, these masks take on an extraordinary significance. They grant the right not to understand, the right to confuse, to tease, to hyperbolize life; the right to parody others while talking, the right not to be taken literally, not “to be oneself”; the right to live a life in the chronotope of the entr’acte, the chronotope of theatrical space, the right to act life as a comedy and to treat others as actors, the right to rip off masks, the right to rage at others with a primeval (almost cultic) rage—and finally, the right to betray to the public a personal life, down to its most private and prurient little secrets.

Bakhtin – The Dialogic Imagination

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In Form and Movement How Express

The two most romantic scenes from 2013:

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The Life of Man in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Arriving at a modern hotel, Augie March pauses to take stock:

I know that I in, say, an ancient place like Venice or in Rome, passing along the side of majestic walls where great men once sat, experienced what it was to be simply a dot, a speck that scans across the cornea, a corpuscle, almost white, almost nothing but air: I to these ottimati in their thought. And this spectacular ancient aggrandizement with its remains of art and many noble signs I could appreciate even if I didn’t want to be just borne down by the grandeur of it. But in this modern power of luxury, with its battalions of service workers and engineers, it’s the things themselves, the products that are distinguished, and the individual man isn’t nearly equal to their great sum. Finally they are what becomes great–the multitude of baths with never-failing hot water, the enormous air-conditioning units and the elaborate machinery. No opposing greatness is allowed, and the disturbing person is the one who won’t serve by using or denies by not wishing to enjoy.

Augie was enormously receptive but superficial, self-centered, incapable of following a thought to its conclusion. Samuel Butler lays out for us the obvious inference:

The air we breathe is hardly more necessary for our animal life than the use of any machine, on the strength of which we have increased our numbers, is to our civilisation; it is the machines which act upon man and make him man, as much as man who has acted upon and made the machines; but we must choose between the alternative of undergoing much present suffering, or seeing ourselves gradually superseded by our own creatures, till we rank no higher in comparison with them, than the beasts of the field with ourselves.

[Many] say that although man should become to the machines what the horse and dog are to us, yet that he will continue to exist, and will probably be better off in a state of domestication under the beneficent rule of the machines than in his present wild condition.  We treat our domestic animals with much kindness.  We give them whatever we believe to be the best for them; and there can be no doubt that our use of meat has increased their happiness rather than detracted from it.  In like manner there is reason to hope that the machines will use us kindly, for their existence will be in a great measure dependent upon ours; they will rule us with a rod of iron, but they will not eat us; they will not only require our services in the reproduction and education of their young, but also in waiting upon them as servants; in gathering food for them, and feeding them; in restoring them to health when they are sick; and in either burying their dead or working up their deceased members into new forms of mechanical existence.

“The very nature of the motive power which works the advancement of the machines precludes the possibility of man’s life being rendered miserable as well as enslaved.  Slaves are tolerably happy if they have good masters, and the revolution will not occur in our time, nor hardly in ten thousand years, or ten times that.  Is it wise to be uneasy about a contingency which is so remote?  Man is not a sentimental animal where his material interests are concerned, and though here and there some ardent soul may look upon himself and curse his fate that he was not born a vapour-engine, yet the mass of mankind will acquiesce in any arrangement which gives them better food and clothing at a cheaper rate, and will refrain from yielding to unreasonable jealousy merely because there are other destinies more glorious than their own.

“The power of custom is enormous, and so gradual will be the change, that man’s sense of what is due to himself will be at no time rudely shocked; our bondage will steal upon us noiselessly and by imperceptible approaches; nor will there ever be such a clashing of desires between man and the machines as will lead to an encounter between them.  Among themselves the machines will war eternally, but they will still require man as the being through whose agency the struggle will be principally conducted.  In point of fact there is no occasion for anxiety about the future happiness of man so long as he continues to be in any way profitable to the machines; he may become the inferior race, but he will be infinitely better off than he is now.  Is it not then both absurd and unreasonable to be envious of our benefactors?  And should we not be guilty of consummate folly if we were to reject advantages which we cannot obtain otherwise, merely because they involve a greater gain to others than to ourselves?

“With those who can argue in this way I have nothing in common.  I shrink with as much horror from believing that my race can ever be superseded or surpassed, as I should do from believing that even at the remotest period my ancestors were other than human beings.  Could I believe that ten hundred thousand years ago a single one of my ancestors was another kind of being to myself, I should lose all self-respect, and take no further pleasure or interest in life.  I have the same feeling with regard to my descendants, and believe it to be one that will be felt so generally that the country will resolve upon putting an immediate stop to all further mechanical progress, and upon destroying all improvements that have been made for the last three hundred years.  I would not urge more than this.  We may trust ourselves to deal with those that remain, and though I should prefer to have seen the destruction include another two hundred years, I am aware of the necessity for compromising, and would so far sacrifice my own individual convictions as to be content with three hundred.  Less than this will be insufficient.

Many will enslave themselves to the pleasures provided by machines







Many will rage at their own obsolescence




But who will shepherd the truth of Being when we’ve gone?

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Count Kessler

Few ideologies have been so quickly and thoroughly discredited as free-thinking, mob-friendly, radical materialism. Not simply its adherents, but even its opponents, who have toppled it with their attacks, appear like fossils to us now. It is dead, dead. We are simply still governed by its principles and must lead our lives according to the will of its corpse.

Harry Kessler, Journey to the Abyss, 1894


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The Overture to Tannhauser

…a solitude with vast horizons and bathed in a diffused light; immensity without other decor than itself. Soon I became aware of a heightened brightness, of a light growing in intensity so quickly that the shades of meaning provided by a dictionary would not suffice to express this constant increase of burning whiteness. Then I achieved a full apprehension of a soul floating in light, of an ecstasy compounded of joy and insight, hovering above and far removed from the natural world.

Wagner speaks of ‘a choir of angels bearing a holy vessel’; Lizst sees a ‘miraculously beautiful edifice,’ mirrored in haze…

In the three versions we find the sensation of spiritual and physical beautitude; of isolation; of the contemplation of something infinitely big and infinitely beautiful; of an intense light, which is a joy to the eyes and soul to the point of swooning, and finally the sensation of space, extending to the furthest conceivable limits.

Baudelaire is right. Before reading his essay, I had already seen spirals of burnished gold, lit by the sun, climbing upwards in the infinity of black space.

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Christian Bale

That moment when Christian Bale forgot his wife’s name, recorded for all time:



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Opposition is True Friendship

Writers I’ve never heard anyone criticize:

  • Homer
  • Thucydides
  • Dante
  • de Tocqueville
  • Kafka
  • Borges
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More From Emerson’s Journal

I was a little chubby boy trundling a hoop in Chauncy Place, and spouting poetry from Scott and Campbell at the Latin School. But Time, the little grey man, has taken out of his vest-pocket a great, awkward house (in a corner of which I sit down and write of him), some acres of land, several full-grown and several very young persons, and seated them close beside me; then he has taken that chubbiness and that hoop quite away (to be sure he has left the declamation and the poetry), and here left a long, lean person threatening to be a little grey man, like himself.

I can count on my fingers all the sane men that ever came to me. Were I to insist on silence until I was fully met, and all my faculty called out and tasked by my companion, I should have a solitary time of it. Those who visit me are young men, imperfect persons, people with some partial thought, or local culture.

The dreams of my childhood are all fading away and giving place to some very sober and very disgusting views of a quiet mediocrity of talents and condition nor does it appear to me that any application of which I am capable, any efforts, any sacrifices, could at this moment restore any reasonableness to the familiar expectations of my earlier youth.

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