Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Harold Bloom

I return to my initial question: the Sorrowful Knight's object. He is at war with Freud's reality principle, which accepts the necessity of dying. But he is neither a fool nor a madman, and his vision is always at least double: he sees what we see, yet he sees something else also, a possible glory that he describes to appropriate or at least to share. Unamuno names this transcendence as literary fame, the immortality of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Certainly that is part of the Knight's quest; much of Part II turns upon his and Sancho's delightful apprehension that their adventures in Part I are recognized everywhere. Perhaps Unamuno underestimated the complexities involved in so grand a disruption in the aesthetics of representation. Hamlet again is the best analogue: from the entrance of the players in Act II through the closure of the performance of The Mousetrap in Act III all the rules of normative representation are tossed away and everything is theatricality. Part II of Don Quixote is similarly and bewilderingly advanced, since the Knight, Sancho, and everyone they encounter are acutely conscious that fiction has disrupted the order of reality.

. . .

The aesthetic wonder is that this enormity (DQ as a "veritable encylopedia of cruelty"--Nabokov) fades when we stand back from the huge book and ponder its shape and endless range of meaning. No critic's account of Cervantes' masterpiece agrees with, or even resembles, any other critic's impressions. Don Quixote is a mirror held up not to nature, but to the reader. How can this bashed and mocked knight be, as he is, a universal paradigm?

From Harold Bloom's Introduction to Don Quixote
(bold mine)

Ford Maddox Ford

I have come to be very much of a cynic in these matters; I mean that it is impossible to believe in the permanence of man's or woman's love. Or, at any rate, it is impossible to believe in the permanence of an early passion. As I see it, at least, with regard to man, a love affair, a love for any definite woman, is something in the nature of a widening of the experience. With each new woman that a man is attracted to there appears to come a broadening of the outlook, or, if you like, an acquiring of new territory. A turn of the eyebrow, a tone of the voice, a queer characteristic gesture--all these things, and it is these things that cause to arise the passion of love--all these things are like so many objects on the horizon of the landscape that tempt a man to walk beyond the horizon, to explore.

He wants to get, as it were, behind those eyebrows with the peculiar turn, as if he desired to see the world with the eyes that they overshadow. He wants to hear that voice applying itself to every possible proposition, to every possible topic; he wants to see those characteristic gestures against every possible background. Of the question of the sex instinct I know very little and I do not think that it counts for very much in a really great passion. It can be aroused by such nothings--by an untied shoelace, by a glance of the eye in passing--that I think it might be left out of the calculation. I don't mean to say that any great passion can exist without a desire for consummation.

That seems to me a commonplace and to be therefore a matter needing no comment at all. It is a thing, with all its accidents, that must be taken for granted, as, in a novel, or a biography, you take it for granted that the characters have their meals with some regularity. But the real fierceness of desire, the real heat of a passion long continued and withering up the soul of a man, is the craving for identity with the woman that he loves.

He desires to see with the same eyes, to touch with the same sense of touch, to hear with the same ears, to lose his identity, to be enveloped, to be supported. For, whatever may be said of the relation of the sexes, there is no man who loves a woman that does not desire to come to her for the renewal of his courage, for the cutting asunder of his difficulties. And that will be the mainspring of his desire for her. We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.

So, for a time, if such a passion comes to fruition, the man will get what he wants. He will get the moral support, the encouragement, the relief from the sense of loneliness, the assurance of his own worth. But these things pass away; inevitably they pass away as the shadows across sun-dials. It is sad, but it is so. The pages of the book will have become familiar; the beautiful corner of the road will have been turned to many times. Well, this is the saddest story.

Ford Maddox Ford, from The Good Soldier
(qtd. Sven Birkerts, The Reading Life: Books for the Ages)


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bertrand Russell

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell

Bruno Schulz

I do not know just how in childhood we arrive at certain images, images of crucial significance to us. They are like filaments in a solution around which the sense of the world crystallizes for us . . . They are meanings that seem predestined for us, ready and waiting at the very entrance of our life . . . Such images constitute a program, establish our soul's fixed fund of capital, which is allotted to us very early in the form of inklings and half-conscious feelings. It seems to me that the rest of our life passes in the interpretation of those insights, in the attempt to master them with all the wisdom we acquire, to draw them through all the range of intellect we have in our possession. These early images mark the boundaries of an artist's creativity. His creativity is a deduction from assumptions already made. He cannot now discover anything new; he learns only to understand more and more the secret entrusted to him at the beginning, and his art is a constant exegesis, a comment on that single verse that was assigned to him. But art will never unravel that secret completely. The secret remains insoluble. The knot in which the soul is bound is no trick knot, coming apart with a tug at the end. On the contrary it grows tighter and tighter. We work at it, untying, tracing the path of the string, seeking the end, and out of this manipulating comes art . . .

Bruno Schulz, from the Introduction to Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles

Monday, April 28, 2008

Joseph Cambell

Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life--that is the lure, the promise and the terror . . . that we carry within.

Joseph Campbell, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces

(qtd. Anne Paris)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cao Xueqin

"You've hit it exactly!" said Dai-yu. "As a matter of fact even the language isn't of primary importance. The really important things are the ideas that lie behind the words. If the ideas that lie behind it are genuine, there's no need to embellish the language for the poem to be a good one. That's what they mean when they talk about 'not letting the words harm the meaning'."

Cao Xueqin

From The Story of the Stone, Vol. II
(translated by David Hawkes)

For more about the novel:


Astolphe de Custine

We are all vaguely tormented with a desire to know a world which appears to us a dungeon . . . I should feel as if I could not depart in peace out of this narrow sphere unless I endeavored to explore my prison. The more I examine it, the more beautiful and extensive it becomes in my eyes.

Astolphe de Custine (qtd. in The Accidental Masterpiece by Michael Kimmelman)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

W.B. Yeats

One had a lovely face
And two or three had charm,
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.

W.B. Yeats, "Memory" qtd. in Love, Again by Doris Lessing

Hermann Hesse

I wanted only to try to live in accord with
the promptings that came from my true self.
Why was that so very difficult?

Hermann Hesse, Demian

The Upanishads

You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Brihadaranyka IV.4.5 (translated by Eknath Easwaran)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dorothy Brande

"The idea of the alter ego, the other self, or higher self, recurs whenever genuius becomes conscious of its own processes, and we have testimony for it in age after age."

"The man of genius is one who habitually (or very often, or very successfully) acts as his less gifted brothers only rarely do. He not only acts in an event, but he creates an event, leaving his record of the moment on paper, canvas, or in stone."

"But the genius, you must remember, is the man who by some fortunate accident of temperament or education can put his unconscious completely at the service of his reasonable intention, whether or not he is aware that this is so."

Dorothy Brande, from "Becoming a Writer"

Robert Musil

The desire for a double of the other sex that resembles us absolutely while still being other, for a magical creature who is ourself while possessing the advantage, over all our imaginings, of an autonomous existence . . . We find traces of it in even the most banal circumstances of love: in the attraction linked to any change, any disguise, as in the importance of unison and the repetition of the self in other . . . The great, the implacable amorous passions are all linked to the fact that a being imagines he sees his most secret self spying upon him behind the curtain of another's eyes.

Robert Musil, quoted in The Art of Seduction (Robert Greene)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Philip Roth

Even now (if 'now' can be said to mean anything any longer), beyond corporeal existence, alive as I am here (if 'here' or 'I' means anything) as memory alone (if 'memory', strictly speaking, is that all-embracing medium in which I am being sustained as 'myself'), I continue to puzzle over Olivia's actions . . . Who could have imagined that one would have forever to remember each moment of life down to its tiniest component?

Philip Roth, from Indignation

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Michael N. Nagler

If we could trace where a desire arises from--and the Upanishads do repeatedly--we would find that in most cases something--a thought, an external event--has stirred up some wisp of the vague sense of incompleteness we harbor beneath the floor of surface consciousness as long as we are not identified with our Self. We immediately misinterpret this stirring as a desire for something outside of us. This is maya: misinterpreting the longing for union within as a call for something outside the Self.

The Upanishads go a step further. When we have the sensation "I want such-and-such," what we really mean is that we want the relative tranquility that follows when a desire subsides. As the great sage of Ramana Maharshi, who was very close to the Upanishads in spirit, once declared, "There is no happiness in any object of the world." The Self is pure happiness, which we mistake as coming from the outside; so the closer we come to the Self within, the more we are aware of--the more we feel already--what we are looking for outside us. This is what the Upanishads mean by joy. "Renunciation" refers simply to dropping the outside reflection for the reality which is within.


The world rests upon the bedrock of satya or truth. Asatya, meaning untruth, also means non-existent, and satya or truth also means that which is. If untruth does not so much as exist, its victory is out of the question. And truth being that which is can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of Satyagraha in a nutshell.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Tao Te Ching

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Therefore the master takes action by
letting things take their course.
She remains as calm at the end as the beginning.

Tao Te Ching

Harry Levin

But literary artifice is the only means that a writer has at his disposal. How else can he convey his impression of life? Precisely by discrediting those means, by repudiating that air of bookishness in which any book is inevitably wrapped. When Pascal observed that the true eloquence makes fun of eloquence, he succinctly formulated the principle that could look to Cervantes as its recent and striking exemplar. It remained for La Rochefoucauld to restate the other side of the paradox: some people would never have loved had they not heard of love.

Harry Levin

Lucretius, Ovid, Montaigne, Pliny

"At last true words surge up from deep within our breast,
The mask is snatched away, reality is left."
Lucretius (qtd. Montaigne)

"When death comes, let it find me at my work."
Ovid (qtd. Montaigne)

"For in truth habit is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress."

"Habit is the most effective teacher of all things."
Pliny (qtd. Montaigne)

Swami Satchidananda

If you run after things, nothing will come to you. Let things run after you. The sea never sends an invitation to the rivers. That's why they run to the sea. The sea is content. It doesn't want anything. That's the secret in life.

Swami Satchidananda
(qtd. John Perry Barlow)


Basho gave this advice to his disciplines:

Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must let go of your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and don't learn. Your poetry arises by itself when you and the object become one, when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden light glimmering there. However well-phrased your poetry may be, if your feeling isn't natural--if you and the object are seperate--then your poetry isn't true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit.

Basho, pen name for Matsuo Basho, Japanese Poet
(Qtd. in The Enlightened Heart ed. Stephen Mitchell)

Honore de Balzac

You don't delve deeply enough into the intimacies of form. You don't pursue them with sufficient love and perseverance in all their disguises and evasions. Beauty is something difficult and austere which can't be captured that way: you must bide your time, lie in wait, seize it, hug it close with all your might in order to make it yield. Form's a Proteus much more elusive and resourceful than the one in the myth--only after a long struggle can you compel it to reveal to its true aspect. Artists like you are satisfied with the first likeness it yields, or at most the second or third; that's not the way this victory is won! The victorious painter is never deceived by all those subterfuges, he perseveres until Nature's forced to show herself stark naked, in her true spirit.

Honore de Balzac, from The Unknown Masterpiece

William James

If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight--as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealities and faithfulness, are needed to redeem.

William James
(qtd. Robert D. Richardson in William James: In the Maelstrom of Modernism)

John Blofeld

To those familiar with Taoist teaching, it meant the invisible, formless matrix that gives rise to the endless succession of forms which are no more apart from or different from the matrix than waves are apart from or different from the sea . . .

The use of a term meaning "way" to describe the vast, unfathomable reality of which every form is but a transient manifestation has very subtle implications, pointing to the non-dual nature of reality; for, if reality is in fact non-dual, then the source, the way to the goal, the wayfarer, and the goal are all indivisible from one another . . .

What this means in practice is that one seeks to attain to a state of intuitive understanding in which the unity of "I" and "other" is experienced as vividly as the heat of fire or the coldness of ice . . .

Thus realization of the identity of one's true nature and the true nature of the Tao leads to acceptance of health and illness, gain and loss, up and down, life and death as being equally essential to the natural functioning of things, and therefore in no way to be deplored.

From John Blofeld's Introduction to The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain


Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented. Sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar, and so I am.
Then crushing penury persuades me I was better when a king;
Then I am kinged again, and by and by
Think that I am unkinged by Bullingbrooke, and straight am nothing.
But what e'er I be, nor I, nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased with being nothing.

Shakespeare, Richard II Act 5 Scene 5

Robert Greene

"Remember: it is the form that matters, not the content. The less your targets focus on what you say, and the more on how it makes them feel, the more seductive the effect."

"Do not waste time on real information; focus on feelings and sensations, using expressions that are ripe with connotation. Plant ideas by dropping hints, writing suggestively without explaining yourself."

"Never lecture, never seem intellectual or superior--you will only make yourself pompous, which is deadly. Far better to speak colloquially, though with a poetic edge to lift the language above the commonplace. Do not become sentimental--it is tiring, and too direct.

"The goal of your writing is not to express yourself but to create emotion in the reader, spreading confusion and desire."

Robert Greene, The Art of Seduction


Northrope Frye

As nothing is certain or permanent in the world, nothing either real or unreal,the secret of wisdom is detachment without withdrawal. All goals and aims may cheat us, but if we run away from them we shall find ourselves bumping into them . . .

As soon as we renounce the expectation of reward, in however refined a guise, for virtue or wisdom, we relax and our real energies begin to flow into the soul . . . .

We see too how the primitive form of wisdom, using past experience as a balancing pole for walking the tightrope of life, finally grows, through incessant discipline and practice, into the final freedom of movement, where, in Yeat's phrase, we can no longer tell the dancer from the dance.

Northrope Frye, from The Great Code


The true variety is in this abundance of real and unexpected elements, in the branch loaded with blue flowers which shoots up, against all reason, from the spring hedgerow that seemed already overcharged with blossoms, whereas the purely formal imitation of variety (and one might advance the same argument for all the other qualities of style) is but a barren uniformity, this is to say, the very antithesis of variety, and cannot, in the work of imitators, give the illusion or recall the memory of it save to a reader who has not acquired the sense of it from the masters themselves.

Marcel Proust, from In Search of Lost Time Vol. II

Andre Brenton

A pox on all captivity, even should it be in interest of the universal good, even in Montezuma's gardens of precious stones! Still today I am only counting on what comes of my own openness, my eagerness to wander in search of everything, which, I am confident, keeps me in mysterious communication with other beings, as if we were suddenly called to assemble. I would like my life to leave after it no other murmur than that of a watchman's song, of a song to while away the waiting. Independent of what happens and what does not happen, the wait itself is magnificent.

Andre Breton From "L' Amour fou" (Mad Love) 1937

Sam Keen

The second step requires that I go beyond the idiosyncratic and egocentric perception of immediate experience. Mature awareness is possible only when I have digested and compensated for the biases and prejudices that are the residue of my personal history. Awareness of what presents itself to me involves a double movement of attention: silencing the familiar and welcoming the strange. Each time I approach a strange object, person, or event, I have a tendency to let my present needs, past experience, or expectations for the future determine what I will see. If I am to appreciate the uniqueness of any datum, I must be sufficiently aware of my preconceived ideas and characteristic emotional distortions to bracket them long enough to welcome strangeness and novelty into my perceptual world. This discipline of bracketing, compensating, or silencing requires sophisticated self-knowledge and courageous honesty. Yet, without this discipline each present moment is only the repetition of something already experienced. In order for genuine novelty to emerge, for the unique presence of things, persons, or events to take root in me, I must undergo a decentralization of the ego.

Sam Keen, from To a Dancing God

M. Scott Peck

Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost . . . The more effort we make to appreciate and perceive reality, the larger and more accurate our maps will be. But many do not want to make this effort . . . the biggest problem of map-making is not that we have to start from scratch, but that if our maps are to be accurate we have to continually revise them. The world itself is constantly changing. Glaciers come, glaciers go. Cultures come, cultures go. There is too little technology, there is too much technology. Even more dramatically, the vantage point from which we view the world is constantly and rapidly changing. When we are children we are dependent, powerless. As adults we may be powerful. Yet in illness or infirm old age we may become powerless and dependent again . . . The process of making revisions, particularly major revisions, is painful, sometimes excruciatingly painful. And herein lies the major source of many of the ills of mankind.

M. Scott Peck
from The Road Less Travelled


To evoke in oneself, then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling--this is the activity of art. A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the perceiver, the separation between himself and the artist--not that alone, but also between himself and all whose minds perceive this work of art. In this freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art.

Tolstoy "What is Art?"