1. The Art of Fiction No. 46

    1. INTERVIEWER: If you had continued to live in Eastern Europe and written in Polish, or, as you were bilingual, in Russian, do you think your novels would have been published?
    2. KOSINSKI: It's not even a matter for speculation. I would never have written in Polish or in Russian. I never saw myself as a man willingly expressing opinions in a totalitarian State. Make no mistake about it: my generation was perfectly aware of the political price paid for our existence in the total State. To be a writer was to become a spokesman for a particular philosophical dogma. I considered this a trap: I would not speak for it; nor could I speak publicly against it.

  2. "Transparency is the whole culture… [It] is also our organizing principle of closeness these days. I will tell you everything, and if I don’t tell you, it means I don’t trust you or I have a secret. It doesn’t mean I choose to keep certain things to myself because they are private. Privacy is the endangered species in between two extremes of secrecy and transparency ."
    — Esther Perel

  3. "The chief thing, your honor, is not to think. If you don’t think, it is nothing much. It mostly all comes from thinking."
    — Tolstoy, reporting on pain (via magnificentruin)

    (via magnificentruin)


  4. "We erect a statue in our own image inside ourselves – idealized, you know, but still recognizable – and then spend our lives engaged in the effort to make ourselves into its likeness."

  5. "Humans are not a rational animal, but a rationalizing one."

  6. bits of proust

    "We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us."

    "We ought at least, for prudence, never to speak of ourselves, because that is a subject one which we may be sure that other people’s views are never in accordance with our own."

    "If there were no such thing as habit, life might appear delightful to those of us who are constantly under the threat of death—that is to say, to all mankind."

    from the NYRB


  7. You say rivers of wine flow in heaven,
    is heaven a tavern to you?
    You say two virgins await each believer there,
    is heaven a brothel to you?

    Ömer Hayyam



    I remember a period late in adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However… who said that thing about ‘the littleness of life that art exaggerates’? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my laws, I took holidays, I lived my life.

    But time… how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but we were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time… give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical. 



    Later on in life, you expect a bit of rest, don’t you? You think you deserve it. I did, anyway. But then you begin to understand that the reward of merit is not life’s business.

    Also, when you are young, you think you can predict the likely pains and bleaknesses that age might bring. You imagine yourself being lonely, divorced, widowed; children growing away from you, friends dying. You imagine the loss of status, the loss of desire—and desirability. You may go further and consider your own approaching death, which, despite what company you may muster can only be faced alone. But all this is looking ahead. What you fail to do is look ahead and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration and therefore less certainty as to what you are or have been. Even if you have assiduously kept records—in words, sound, pictures—you may find that you have attended to the wrong kind of record-keeping. What was the line Adrian used to quote? ‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.’

    I still read a lot of history, and of course, I’ve followed all the official history that’s happened in my own lifetime—the fall of Communism, Mrs Thatcher, 9/11, global warming—with the normal mixture of fear, anxiety and cautious optimism. But I’ve never felt the same about it—I’ve never quite trusted it—as I do ancient Greece and Roman, or the British Empire, or the Russian Revolution. Perhaps I just feel safer with the history that’s been more or less agreed upon. Or perhaps it’s that same paradox again: the history that happens underneath our noses ought to be the clearest, and yet it’s the most deliquescent. We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history—even our own small, personal, largely undocumented piece of it?


  10. "Wherever you go, you take yourself with you."
    — Neil Gaiman