Friday, December 31, 2010

...and a bit o' Robbie Burns for the road

"O Whisky! soul o' plays an' pranks!
Accept a Bardie's gratefu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
Are my poor verses!
Thou comes--they rattle i' their ranks
At ither's arses!"

-- Robert Burns, "Scotch Drink"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Edna O'Brien on the monstrosity of writers

"Do writers have to be such monsters in order to create? I believe that they do. It is a paradox that while wrestling with language to capture the human condition they become more callous, and cut off from the very human traits they so glisteningly depict." -- Edna O' Brien, James Joyce

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On anti-atheists

"...when religious authors condemn atheism, they all too often construct a vision of the 'godless universe' which is a projection of the repressed underside of religion itself." -- Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

...and another one plucked from the Arcades

"Surrealism is the death of the nineteenth century in comedy." -- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Monday, December 27, 2010

You don't need Bill Ayers to know which way the wind blows...

"In every true work of art there is a place where, for one who removes there, it blows cool like the wind of a coming dawn." -- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sartre's worm

"Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being--like a worm." -- Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A hopeful thought for Christmas day

"Mankind is growing out of religion as out of its childhood clothes." -- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Things

"...Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing."

--William Shakespeare, As You Like It (This is the lesser-known ending of the speech that begins "All the world's a stage...")

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Swift on lawyers

"I said there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves." -- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eliot's moment of surrender

"My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed"

-- T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Monday, December 20, 2010

Schopenhauer's rewrite

"The prayer, 'Lead me not into temptation' means 'Let me not see who I am.' -- Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, volume I

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy Elias (like honest Iago)

"Happiness is that ridiculous life goal of the illiterate." -- attributed to Elias Canetti

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reading and depression

"There are in existence many sublimely tragic pages, but for someone who is dying or wants to die even those wondrous pages of sorrow would sound trumped up, terrifyingly inadequate to the sorrow of the instant." -- Claudio Magris, Danube

Friday, December 17, 2010

...proving by algebra...

"--Pooh! Buck Mulligan said. We have grown out of Wilde and paradoxes. It's quite simple. He proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father." -- James Joyce, Ulysses

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oppen's ontology

"...the dream merely ends, by this we know it is the real / That we confront" -- George Oppen, "Route"

Blogger's note: Get a copy of Oppen's Collected Poems and read this entire long poem. It's one of the greatest of the 20th century.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bierce's definition of religion

"Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Truth of Anxiety

"...anxiety is that which does not deceive." -- Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nietzsche's Writing Workshop

"Good prose is written only face to face with poetry." Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Schopenhauer's optimism

"Religions are the children of ignorance, and they do not long survive their mother." -- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kakfa in Love

"To me, this is love: that you are the knife I turn within myself." -- Franz Kafka, letter to Milena Jesenska

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Secret of Writing for TV

"I could not write Alf without massive quantities of heroin." -- Jerry Stahl, on Entertainment Tonight sometime in the later 1990s (I'm working from memory)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time, Chance, Ecclesiastes

"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." -- Ecclesiastes, 9:11, King James Bible

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Auden's naivete (because no place is exempt from capitalist tampering)

"For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper..." -- W. H. Auden, "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't trust anyone older than Goethe

"When one has passed his thirtieth year,
One then is just the same as dead." -- Baccalaureus in Goethe's Faust, Part Two

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Religion: An American's View

"I am not now and have never been a member of any church. Nor have I ever, not even in late adolescence, believed in God or an afterlife or a power or consciousness beyond the world that is interested in this world. Nor have I ever felt the need for such a belief, or even any interest in the whole question. Religion, in short, bores me even more than Marxism." -- Dwight Macdonald, Politics Past (originally titled Memoirs of a Revolutionist)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

amar es combatir

"To love is to battle" -- Octavio Paz, Sunstone (translated by Eliot Weinberger)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The resistance to suicide

"In a man's attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body's judgment is as good as the mind's, and the body shrinks from annihilation" -- Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In dead earnest...

"Religions, like the ideologies that have inherited their vices, are reduced to crusades against humor." -- E. M. Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vidal on Christianity and Homosexuality

"At least when the Emperor Justinian, a sky-god man, decided to outlaw sodomy, he had to come up with a good practical reason, which he did. It is well known, Justinian declared, that buggery is a principal cause of earthquakes, and so must be prohibited. But our sky-godders, always eager to hate, still quote Leviticus, as if that loony text had anything useful to say about anything except, perhaps, the inadvisibility of eating shellfish in the Jerusalem area." -- Gore Vidal, "Monotheism and its Discontents," United States: Essays 1952-1992

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nietzsche and the Monsters of the Abyss (not a Troma flick)

"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bloom's Shakespearean Marx

"Coriolanus is a far more powerful reading of Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon than any Marxist reading of Coriolanus could hope to be." -- Harold Bloom, The Western Canon

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Fathers of the Church had way too much time on their hands

"To vindicate the omnipotence of our will, Saint Augustine alleges that he knew a man who commanded his behind to produce as many farts as he wanted, and his commentator Vives goes him one better with another example of his own time, of farts arranged to suit the tone of verses pronounced to their accompaniment..." -- Michel de Montaigne, "Of The Power of The Imagination," Essays

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hemingway's Prayer

"Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nadas as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee." -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

...but if there were, Wallace Stevens could've written you a policy

"There is thus no insurance against the risk of writing." -- Jacques Derrida, "Force and Signification," Writing and Difference

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pater on philosophy and/as art

"Philosophy serves culture, not by the fancied gift of absolute or transcendental knowledge, but by suggesting questions which help one to detect the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic contrasts of life." -- Walter Pater, The Renaissance

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On the difference between reading and reading well

"He who has read Kafka's Metamorphosis and can look into his mirror unflinching may technically be able to read print, but is illiterate in the only sense that matters." -- George Steiner, 'Humane Literacy,' Language and Silence

Friday, November 19, 2010

Religion: A Roman View

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." --Seneca, quoted in Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Paglia's modest proposal for a revision of the Book of Genesis

"In the beginning was nature. The background from which and against which our ideas of God were formed, nature remains the supreme moral problem." -- Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shakespeare on Freud, Lacan and Psychoanalysis

MACBETH: Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Rase out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?

DOCTOR: Therein the patient must minister to himself.

-- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hume and miracles

"...the Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one." -- David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Wilde Truth

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility." -- Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Illness and the Inescapability of Metaphor

"People speak of illness as deepening. I don't feel deepened. I feel flattened. I've become opaque to myself." -- Susan Sontag, from her journals, quoted in David Rieff, Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sartre on atheism and existentialism

"Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position." -- Jean-Paul Sartre, "Existentialism is a Humanism"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Unsettling Emerson

"People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Circles"

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I begin this blog of daily epigrams for atheists and intellectuals with a favorite quote from Nietzsche:

"Weariness that wants to reach the ultimate with one leap, with one fatal leap, a poor ignorant weariness that does not want to want any more: this created all gods and afterworlds." -- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (translated by Walter Kaufmann)