“Before, every face, every place, every event, had been unique, seen only once and then lost forever among the changes of age, light, time.
“See how long you can stay in that space, where both things are true… That’s a great place to try to be.” “The job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it,” Dani Shapiro wrote in her beautiful meditation on the pleasures and perils of the creative life.
“Words a wonderful kind of glue.” “We live in the word,” Elizabeth Alexander observed in contemplating writing and the self in language, “and the word is one of the ways we have to reach across to each other.” And it is often in learning to live in the word — that is, in those formative years of first understanding how sounds make shapes to make words — that we also begin mastering the art of human connection.
“You have to tell your own story simultaneously as you hear and respond to the stories of others.” “You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you,” James Baldwin observed in his terrific forgotten conversation with Margaret Mead.
A visionary reimagining of beloved storytelling by the Oscar Wilde of the Scandinavian art world. Around the time Kay Nielsen was producing his extraordinary early-twentieth-century illustrations for Scandinavian fairy tales and Arthur Rackham was revolutionizing the Brothers Grimm, an artist far less remembered but no less gifted and visionary was reimagining some of humanity’s most beloved storytelling.
“In broaching the possibility of being, in some way, against self-criticism, we have to imagine a world in which celebration is less suspect than criticism.” I have thought and continued to think a great deal about the relationship between critical thinking and cynicism — what is the tipping point past which critical thinking, that centerpiece of reason so vital to human progress and intellectual life, stops mobilizing our constructive impulses and topples over into the destructiveness of impotent complaint and embittered resignation, begetting cynicism?
“That visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.” “Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each,” Paul Goodman wrote in his anatomy of the nine kinds of silence shortly after Susan Sontag penned her masterwork on the aesthetic of silence as a creative choice.
“You’re handed the mould and told — fit in to this.” Partway between poem and public service announcement, the spoken-word masterpiece “Progress” by English poet and playwright Kate Tempest, found in her altogether terrific poetry collection Hold Your Own (public library), is the finest, sharpest thing written about why religion exists since Bertrand Russell, the most sobering case against the cult of consumerism since E.F.
“A doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist.” The poetry of W.H.
“We should use our opinions to start discussions, not to end them.” As I was preparing to deliver my Annenberg commencement address, restlessness of a very different kind and caliber was taking place on the other side of the country.
“The protection of minorities is vitally important; and even the most orthodox of us may find himself in a minority some day, so that we all have an interest in restraining the tyranny of majorities.” “We must believe before we can doubt, and doubt before we can deny,” W.H.
“What we must learn to do is to create unbreakable bonds between the sciences and the humanities.” “Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions and pass them on,” modern science patron saint Richard Feynman wrote in contemplating the central responsibility of scientists.
A gentle reminder that even life’s stormiest spells eventually come to pass, and although we can’t will them away, we can surrender to the credence that the unclouded blue skies will return.
“That which one has set oneself to do, one should not relinquish on the grounds of absence of mind or distraction.” “To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention,” Susan Sontag asserted in one of her final works, a superb meditation on storytelling and what it means to be a good human being.
“In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, a calcification of the soul. Hope is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.” I have long relished the commencement address as one of our few cultural forms that render us receptive to sincerity — receptive to messages we might dismiss as trite in any other context, but which we recognize here as the life-earned truth of the human being at the podium, shared in a spirit of goodwill with a group of young humans just starting out on the truth-earning gauntlet called life.
“Be there to hear … the flute of your whole existence…” “To decide whether life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy,” Albert Camus famously wrote — a statement that has only swelled in intellectual notoriety and spiritual significance in the half-century since.
“Both in thought and in feeling, even though time be real, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.” Albert Einstein, in contemplating the human “passion for comprehension,” asserted that every true theoretical physicist is “is a kind of tamed metaphysicist” — a rather controversial statement amid a culture increasingly bent on disentangling science and philosophy (which used to be called metaphysics), and particularly controversial for modernity’s most significant scientist to make.
“There exists a passion for comprehension, just as there exists a passion for music. That passion is rather common in children, but gets lost in most people later on.” “Reason is a tool, a machine, which is driven by the spiritual fire,” Dostoyevsky wrote in 1838 as he contemplated how we come to know truth.
“A great deal of poetic work has arisen from various despairs.” A woman of extraordinary intellectual and creative potency, the Russian-born writer Lou Andreas-Salomé (February 12, 1861–February 5, 1937) became a muse to some of Europe’s most celebrated thinkers, including Nietzsche, whose masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra was largely inspired by her.
In praise of those intermittent “moments of vision” that electrify love. “Real love,” wrote philosopher Alain Badiou in contemplating how we fall and stay in love, “is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.” But what, exactly, adrenalizes that triumph, particularly against the tidal tedium of time that washes over any long-term relationship?