Stuff I've Been Reading

For what I intend to read, have a look at my Amazon Wishlist. You can also follow me on Goodreads. My favourites are here.

Read: December 2018

All the images will disappear. [...] They will all vanish at the same time, like the millions of images that lay behind the foreheads of the grandparents, dead for half a century, and of the parents, also dead. [...] Thousands of words, the ones used to name things, faces, acts and feelings, to put the world in order, make the heart beat and the sex grow moist, will suddenly be nullified.

Everything will be erased in a second. The dictionary of words amassed between cradle and deathbed, eliminated. All there will be is silence an no words to say it. Nothing will come out of the open mouth, neither I nor me. Language will continue to put the world into words. In conversation around a holiday table, we will be nothing but a first name, increasingly faceless, until we vanish into the vast anonymity of a distant generation.

Other people's memories gave us a place in the world.

When she can't sleep at night, she tries to remember the details of all the rooms where she has slept. [...] She doesn't know what she wants from these inventories, except maybe through the accumulation of memories of objects, to again become the person she was at such and such time.

She would like to capture the light that suffuses faces that can no longer be seen and tables groaning with vanished food, the light that was already present in the stories of Sundays in childhood and has continued to settle upon things from the moment they are lived, a light from before. To save.

To save something from the time where we will never be again.

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Read: December 2018

Chaos is supposed to be what we most fear but I have come to believe it might be what we most want. If we don't believe in the future we are planning, the house we are mortgaged to, the person who sleeps by our side, it is possible that a tempest might bring us closer to how we want to be in the world. Life falls apart. We try to get a grip and hold it together. And then we realize we don't want to hold it together.

Everything was calm. The sun was shining. I was swimming in the deep. And then, when I surfaced 20 years later, I discovered there was a storm, a whirlpool, a blasting gale lifting waves over my head. At first I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to the boat and then I realized I didn’t want to make it back to the boat. My marriage was the boat and I knew that if I swam back to it, I would drown. It is also the ghost that will always haunt my life. I will never stop grieving for my long-held wish for enduring love that does not reduce its major players to something less than they are. I am not sure I have often witnessed love that achieves all of these things, so perhaps this ideal is fated to be a phantom.

The night is softer than the day, quieter, sadder, calmer, the sound of the wind tapping windows, the hissing of pipes, the entropy that makes floorboards creak, the ghostly night bus that comes and goes — and always in cities, a far-off distant sound that resembles the sea, yet is just life, more life.

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Read: December 2018

Deve spezzarsi qualcosa dentro, per esempio una corda nel cuore, quando la persona che credi di conoscere a fondo, che ha acceso la tua fiamma, che hai sposato, con cui hai fatto dei figli, hai costruito una casa e dei ricordi, ti appare un giorno all'improvviso come un perfetto estraneo. A dire il vero è un'idizioa bella e buona sostenere di conoscere a fondo qualcuno, c'è sempre un angolo che resta nel buio, nell'ombra, a volte anche un intero edificio.

La luce del mondo è nei tuoi occhi, e anche la tenebra.

L'esistenza è soggettiva, ovvero tutto ciò che hai in testa automaticamente esiste.

Dice parole che preferiamo non ripetere, sono belle per come le dice, intessute nel suo respiro, nella sua voce, nel suo sguardo, metterle su carta senza tutto questo non farebbe che sminuirle.

Ci vogliono più di sei birre per scrivere tuo, tuo è una parola da almeno dieci birre, sì, tuo è una parola da dieci birre.

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Read: October 2018

Perché la vita umana, non è forse un breve ciclone dell'anima? È anche un'eclissi dell'anima. È come se tutti noi fossimo ubriachi, solo ognuno per conto suo, uno ha bevuto di più, l'altro di meno.

Ecco perché ho vergogna: ho appena fatto il conto che da via Čechov fino a questo androne ho bevuto ancora per sei rubli, ma cosa ho bevuto? E dove? E in che ordine? E ho bevuto per il mio bene o per il mio male? Nessuno lo sa e, ormai, nessuno lo saprà mai. Non sappiamo ancora: è stato lo zar Boris a uccidere lo zarevič Dimitrij o viceversa?

Impara ad affliggerti, che di godersela anche i coglioni sono capaci.

La prima edizione di Mosca – Petuški, dato che era in un esemplare solo, si è esaurita rapidamente. Da allora mi sono arrivate molte lamentele per il capitolo «Serp i molot – Karačarovo», del tutto a sproposito, devo dire. Nell’introduzione alla prima edizione avevo avvisato tutte le fanciulle che il capitolo «Serp i molot – Karačarovo» dovevano saltarlo senza leggerlo perché dopo la frase «E giù a bere» seguiva una pagina e mezza di turpiloquio schietto, tanto che nell’intero capitolo non c’era una sola parola castigata, a parte la frase «E giù a bere». Con quel coscienzioso avviso ho ottenuto solo che tutti i lettori, soprattutto le fanciulle, si son buttati subito sul capitolo «Serp i molot – Karačarovo» senza neanche leggere i capitoli precedenti, senza neanche aver letto la frase «E giù a bere». Per questo motivo ho considerato indispensabile, nella seconda edizione, sopprimere dal capitolo «Serp i molot – Karačarovo» il turpiloquio. E così è meglio perché, prima di tutto, mi leggeranno dall’inizio alla fine e, secondariamente, non si offenderà nessuno.

A partire dalla primavera dell'85, non so perché, ho cominciato a star sempre meglio. Secondo me, prima che sia tardi, è ora di ricominciare a decadere.

Un mio conoscente diceva che la voka al coriandolo agisce sull'uomo in senso antiumano, cioé rinvigorisce la membra e indebolisce l'anima.

Io, se voglio capire, trovo posto per tutti. Io non ho una testa, ho una casa di tolleranza.

E se un giorno morirò (morirò molto presto, lo so), morirò senza aver accettato questo mondo, avendolo compreso da vicino e da lontano, da fuori e da dentro, ma senza averlo accettato, morirò e Lui mi chiederà: 'Sei stato bene lì? Sei stato male?', e io starò zitto.

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Read: September 2018

Their shared world of imagination ceased, and the reason was that one of them — I can't even recall which one it was — stopped believing in it. In other words, it was nobody's fault; but all the same it was brought home to me how much of what was beautiful in their lives was the result of a shared vision of things that strictly speaking could not have been said to exist.

It was impossible, I said in response to his question, to give the reasons why the marriage had ended: among other things a marriage is a system of belief, a story, and though it manifests itself in things that are real enough, the impulse that drives it is ultimately mysterious. What was real, in the end, was the loss of the house, which had become the geographical location for things that had gone absent and which represented, I supposed, the hope that they might one day return. To move from the house was to declare, in a way, that we had stopped waiting.

I suppose, I said, it is one definition of love, the belief in something that only the two of you can see.

What you don't know and don't make an effort to understand will become the very thing you are forced into the knowledge of.

The worst thing, it seemed to her, was to be dealing with one version of a person when quite another version existed out of sight.

And of those two ways of living - living in the moment and living outside it - which was more real?

I would like to see the world more innocently again, more impersonally, but I have no idea how to achieve this, other than by going somewhere completely unknown, where I have no identity.

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Read: August 2018

Today the prospect of having to get used to the presence of another body, of someone else getting used to mine, exhausts me in advance.

I discover that I am alone in the monument, alone surrounded by light, alone in this space with its disconcerting proportions; the circle of the immense cupola is welcoming, and hundreds of windows surround me — I sit down cross-legged. I am moved to the point of tears but I do not cry, I feel lifted up from the earth and I run my eyes over the Izmit faience inscriptions, the painted surroundings, everything glitters, then a great calm seizes me, a wrenching calm, a summit glimpsed, but very soon the beauty eludes and rejects me — little by little I rediscover my sense; what my eyes perceive now indeed looks magnificent to me, but has nothing in common with the sensation I've just felt. A great sadness grips me, suddenly, a loss, a sinister vision of the reality of the world and all its imperfections, its pain, a sadness accentuated by the perfection of the building and a phrase comes to me: only the proportions are divine, the rest belongs to humans.

We play our sonata all alone without realising the piano is out of tune, overcome by our emotions: others hear how off-key we sound, and at best feel sincere pity, at worse a terrible annoyance at being confronted with our humiliation.

The times are so bad I've decided to talk to myself.

None of the words come back to me, no speech, everything has fortunately been erased; only her sightly serious face remains and the upwelling of pain, the sensation of suddenly becoming an object in time, crushed by the fist of shame and thrust towards disappearance.

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Read: August 2018

The most energetic among us have long known that the truth is more complex than man's needs, that it may be wholly extraneous and even inimical to these needs. It was a deeply optimist belief, held by classical Greek thought and certainly by rationalism in Europe, that the truth was somehow a friend to man, that whatever you discovered would finally benefit the species.

A true mythology will develop its own language, its own characteristic idiom, its own set of emblematic images, flags, metaphors, dramatic scenarios. It pictures the world in terms of certain cardinal gestures, rituals, and symbols. [...] They are systems of belief and argument which may be savagely antireligious, which may postulate a world without God and may deny an afterlife, but whose structure, whose aspirations, whose claims on the believer, are profoundly religious in strategy and in effect.

For this, I believe, is what the post-religious or surrogate theologies and all the varieties of the irrational have proved to be — illusions. The Marxist promise is cruelly bankrupt. The Freudian programme of liberation has been only very partially fulfilled. The Lévi-Straussian prognostication is one of ironic chastisement. The Zodiac, the spooks, and the platitudes of the guru will not still our hunger. One further alternative remains. The foundation of personal existence on the pursuit of the objective scientific truth: the way of the philosophic and exact sciences.

The German philosopher, Heidegger, puts it well. He says, questions are the piety, the prayer, of human thought. I am trying to put it a little more brutally. We, in the West, are an animal built to ask questions and to try and get answers regardless of the cost.

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Read: June 2018

La mia allegria è dolorosa come il mio dolore. [...] Fra me e la vita c'è un vetro sottile. E per quanto nitidamente veda e comprenda la vita, non lo posso toccare.

Non sentir mai sinceramente i propri sentimenti, ed elevare il proprio pallido trionfo al punto da guardare con indifferenza le poprie ambizioni, ansie e desideri; passare dalle proprie allegrie o angosce come chi passa attraverso qualcosa che non gli interessa.

Di quante complesse ottusità sarà fatta la comprensione che gli altri hanno di noi! [...] Le parole degli altri sono errori del nostro udire, naufragi del nostro intendere.

La bellezza delle rovine? Non servire più a niente.

Le nostre più grandi tragedie si compiono nell'idea che ci facciamo di noi stessi.

Non ho mai imparato a esistere.

Quel che mi sento di essere, non so mai se lo sono davvero, o se solo credo di esserlo.

Non ho mai fatto altro che sognare. È stato questo, solo questo, il senso della mia vita. Non ho mai avuto altra vera preoccupazione se non il mio scenario interiore. I maggiori dolori della mia vita sfumano quando, aprendo la finestra sulla strada dei miei vaneggiamenti, non ne vedo più il movimento.

Le cose che più amiamo, o pensiamo di amare, assumono il loro pieno valore quando semplicemente le sogniamo.

L'immensa serie di persone e di cose che compongono il mondo è per me un'interminabile galleria di quadri. [...] Per me l'umanità è un gran motivo decorativo, che vivo tramite vista e udito. Dalla vita non voglio altro che stare a guardarla.

Mi ha sempre preoccupato, in quegli occasionali momenti di distacco in cui prendiamo coscienza di noi stessi in quanto individui altri per gli altri, immaginare la figura che farò fisicamente, e persino moralmente, per quelli che mi guardano e mi parlano, tutti i giorni o occasionalmente.

Guardo, come in una distesa al sole che sguarcia le nuvole, la mia vita passata; e noto, con metafisico sbalordimento, come tutti i miei gesti più sicuri, le mie idee più chiare, e i miei propositi più logici, non sono stati, alla fine, nient'altro che una ubriacatura congenita, una pazzia naturale, una grande ignoranza. Non ho neanche recitato. Sono stato recitato.

Non sapere di sé è vivere.

La noia è la sensazione carnale dell'eterna futilità delle cose.

Tra la vita degli uomini e quella degli animali non c'è alcuna differenza, se non la maniera con cui si ingannano o la ignorano.

La letteratura è la maniera più gradevole di ignorare la vita.

La noia non è la malattia del fastidio di non aver niente da fare, ma la malattia ancora più grave di sentire che non vale la pena fare niente. Quante volte sollevo dal registro su cui sto scrivendo e su cui lavoro la testa vuota di tutto il mondo! Sarebbe meglio starmene a oziare, senza far niente, senza avere niente da fare, perché almeno mi godrei quella noia, anche se reale.

Nostalgia! Ho nostalgia perfino di quel che per me non è stato niente, per l'angoscia della fuga del tempo e la malattia del mistero della vita. Volti che vedevo abitualmente nei miei soliti tragitti — se non li vedo più mi intristisco; e non sono stati niente per me, se non il simbolo di tutta la vita.

La libertà è la possibilità di isolarsi. Sei libero se puoi allontanarti dagli uomini, senza che il bisogno di denaro, o il bisogno di aggregazione, o l'amore, o la gloria, o la curiosità, che nel silenzio e nella solitudine non trovano alimento, ti obblighino a cercarli. Se ti è impossibile vivere da solo, allora sei nato schiavo.

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Read: June 2018

[Nietzsche] protests against the fact that we assign a purpose to things and to the world. For him, the world has no purpose, and we have no choice but to laugh at that which is. To laugh at the world as a game that pulls the ground out from under the subject, leaving it to float over the abyss of ontological inconsistency, is to play a game whose meaning remains suspended.

As hyperbolic, empty, toxic categories, truth, reality, freedom, justice, the subject, and so on, point to the holes in the fabric of fact by indicating its fragmentary nature. Our world — what we refer as our world — is a porous web of facts. It lacks all consistency and conclusiveness. It contains grounds but has no one ground.

The experience of the beautiful remains open to the incommensurable, which eludes direct experience. The beautiful is the portion of it that manages to communicate itself anyway.

Fragility is an ontological attribute of reality. Reality is always generated over the abyss of its own fragility. It indicates the instability of all facts, along with the arbitrariness of all semiological mythologies. It's sometimes said that logos is that which distances itself from myth. On closer inspection, it's clear that any logos architecture produces its own mythology.

To "hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle" — that could be the definition of artistic practice.

The beautiful is not that which is given and known. We experience beauty at the borders of the given and known, where meaning begins to slip and the senses fail.

Today, reality presents itself as a system of choices. To decide, on the other hand, means not to choose from the given choices.

Adhering to established opinions is the subject's standby mode.

There is no thought without simplification because thought is the reduction of complexity through abstraction. What we call reality is excessively complex.

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Read: May 2018

It's a great mystery to him, his eternal capacity for hope and the eternal destruction of his capacity for hope.

It's our great fortune to live at the periphery.

I keep a mental list of W.'s favourite questions, which he constantly asks me so as to ask himself. — 'At what point did you realise that you would amount to nothing?'; 'When was it that you first became aware you would be nothing but a failure?'; 'When you look back at your life, what do you see?'; 'How is it that you know what greatness is, and that you will never, ever reach it?'

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Read: March 2018

La tecnologia oggi assolve un doppio ruolo comunque estremamente importante: ci solleva dalla parte meccanica dell'umanità e molto spesso ci mantiene lontani anche dalle complicazioni dei suoi utilizzi più alti. Potremmo ma non vogliamo, e questa è una delle ragioni sostanziali, la ragione numero uno, per cui la nostra è una generazione a bassa risoluzione.

Per qualche ragione che non comprendo uno dei valori meno apprezzati nei nostri tempi è il silenzio.

La fine della tastiera è un altro dei punti di snodo del passaggio dell'informatica amatorial verso la bassa risoluzione. Senza la tastiera i terminali di accesso a internet diventano interfacce sempre più monodirezionali. [...] Una specie di nuovo piccolo televisore che fa alcune cose in più.

A noi interessa quasi esclusivamente la memoria instantanea, quella che collega gli eventi del nostro presente.

Dovremo immaginare un punto di intersezione fra superficie e profondità, fra il nostro volare leggeri a cavallo della tecnologia e l'ostinazione di quel pittore che dipingeva un bottone. Solo le due cose assieme potranno essere domani quello che un tempo chiamavamo cultura: entrambe, unite indissolubilmente, saranno domani ciò che continueremo a chiamare cultura.

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Read: March 2018

We have to hope that the people who love us and who know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters

The lifelong friends, he said. We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.

That's the thing about things. They fall apart, always have, always will, it's in their nature.

It's all right to forget, you know, he said. It's good to. In fact, we have to forget things sometimes. Forgetting it is important. We do it on purpose. It means we get a bit of a rest. Are you listening? We have to forget. Or we'd never sleep ever again.

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Read: March 2018

We see our lives as a collection of experiences: "the day I met those people at the party"; "the night I lost my virginity"; "the feeling I had as a tourist in Paris" or "when I stood at the lake in the woods". These snow globes and beach rocks can be held on to, compared, and appraised for quality. You put them on a shelf, and take them down; or lie awake at night, just wondering at them. They come with stories, and you put forward your experiences as rivals to the experiences others can tell. We become lifelong collectors, and count on fixed memories to provide the substance of whatever other aims we may declare, when asked, are our real goals or reasons to live.

The meaning of life always comes down to a method of life.

Build peaks, and former highlands become flatlands — ordinary topography loses its allure. The attempt to make our lives not a waste, by seeking a few most remarkable incidents, will make the rest of our lives a waste.

The discipline is to learn to see the rest of the world in just the same way. Let anyone's ordinary face fascinate you as if it were a bust of Caesar. [...] «For anything to become interesting, you simply have to look at it for a long time» wrote Flaubert. Life becomes the scene of total, never-ending experience. [...] For the adept of aestheticism, experience is not rare; it is always available.

Regard all things as you would a work of art.

Perfectionism, in contract, puts the self before everything. It charges the self with weighing and choosing every behaviour and aspect of its way of living. The process of weighing — so as to 'live deliberately', in Thoreau's phrase — becomes the form of experience in perfectionism. You learn to consider the people and the things of the world as if each might suggest an example of a way you, too, could be. In becoming an example, each thing invites you to measure and change yourself.

Regard all things as if they were examples.

Experience tries to evade the disappointment of this world by adding peaks to it. Life becomes a race against time and a contest you try to win. Aestheticism and perfectionism make a modern attempt to transcend this world by a more intense attention to it — every day and in every situation. [...] One lives one's life for the daily goal of transcending, if only by a disciple of mind, the dull conditions that we fake and that someday will kill us. You live by methods that await you, at your call. You know they can go on, even to your last view of the sky, and the final question you put yourself. This, if not the last and best answer, certainly not the only answer, is still what we have longed to know. It is the meaning of life.

Stoic reason makes a man absolute master of his judgments and eradicates everything that is bad while clarifying the only thing that is truly good: the right use of choice.

Because moralists had said for so many centuries, "Sex must be controlled because it is so powerful and important," sexual liberators were seduced into saying, in opposition, "Sex must be liberated because it is so powerful and important." But in fact a better liberation would have occurred if reformers had freed sex not by its centrality to life, but by its triviality. They could have said: "Sex is a biological function — and for that reason no ground to persecute anyone."

This means that the de-emphasis of sex and the denigration of youth will have to start with an act of willful revaluation. It will require preferring the values of adulthood: intellect over enthusiasm, autonomy over adventure, elegance over vitality, sophistication over innocence — and, perhaps, a pursuit of the confirmation or repetition of experience rather than experiences of novelty.

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Read: January 2018

If Shopenhauer and Stifter were still alive, I would invite them both along with Wittgenstein, but Shopenhauer and Stifter are no longer alive, so I will only invite Wittgenstein. And when I think of it just now, thus said Goethe at the window, with his right hand supported by his cane, Wittgenstein is the greatest of all.

Every remark of mine was met by their misunderstanding and with this misunderstanding their assiduous vulgarity. Thus over the decades I have said less and less and finally nothing more, and their lectures have become evermore ruthless.

Waking up was nothing more than looking into hell.

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Read: January 2018

And here lies the essential between Stoicism and the modern-day 'cult of optimism.' For the Stoics, the ideal state of mind was tranquility, not the excitable cheer that positive thinkers usually seem to mean when they use the word, 'happiness.' And tranquility was to be achieved not by strenuously chasing after enjoyable experiences, but by cultivating a kind of calm indifference towards one's circumstances.

At the bottom of all this lies the principle that the countercultural philosophers of the 1950s and '60s, Alan Watts, echoing Aldous Huxley, labelled 'the law of reverse effort,' or the 'backwards law': the notion that in all sorts of contexts, from our personal lives to politics, all this trying to make everything right is a big part of what's wrong. Or, to quote Watts, that 'when you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink'; but when you try to sink, you float and that 'insecurity is the result of trying to be secure.' In many cases, wrote Huxley, 'the harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed'.

For the Stoics, then, our judgments about the world are all that we can control, but also all that we need to control in order to be happy; tranquility results from replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones.

We elevate those things we want, those things we would prefer to have, into things we believe we must have; we feel we must perform well in certain circumstances, or that other people must treat us well. Because we think these things must occur, it follows that it would be an absolute catastrophe if they did not.

The fact that we desire some things, and dislike or hate others, is what motivates virtually every human activity. Rather than merely enjoying pleasurable things during the moments in which they occur, and experiencing the unpleasantness of painful things, we develop the habits of clinging an aversion: we grasp at what we like, trying to hold onto it forever.

What motivates our investment in goals and planning for the future, much of the time, isn't any sober recognition of the virtues of preparation and looking ahead. Rather, it's something much more emotional: how deeply uncomfortable we are made by feelings of uncertainty. [...] We invest ever more fiercely in our preferred vision of that future — not because it will help us achieve it, but because it helps rid us of feelings of uncertainty in the present.

'He should think of himself more like a frog,' she said. 'You should sun yourself on a lily-pad until you get bored, then when the time is right, you should jump to a new lily-pad and hang out there for a while. Continue this over and over, moving in whatever direction feels right.'

Insecurity is the essential nature of reality. [...] The collapse of your apparent security represents a confrontation with life as it really is. 'Things are not permanent, they don't last, there is no final security,' she says. What makes us miserable is not this truth, but our efforts to escape it.

Impermanence is the nature of the universe; that 'the only constant is change'.

Watts: 'Life is a dance, and when you are dancing, you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance'.

Lao Tzu: 'A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent upon arriving.'

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Read: January 2018

Un uomo era andato a dormire che era credente, si era svegliato che era ateo. Per fortuna, nella stanza di quest'uomo c'era una bilancia medica decimale, e quest'uomo era abituato a pesarsi tutti i giorni, mattino e sera. Così, andando a dormire il giorno prima, l'uomo si era pesato e aveva scoperto che pesava 4 pud e 21 funt. E il giorno dopo, al mattino, dopo essersi svegliato che era ateo, l'uomo si era pesato ancora e aveva scoperto che pesava in tutto 4 pud e 13 funt. "Di conseguenza", aveva pensato l'uomo, "la mia fede pesava intorno agli 8 funt".

A me interessano solo le scemenze; solo quello che non ha nessun senso pratico. Mi interessa la vita solo nelle sue manifestazioni assurde. Eroismo, pathos, audacia, moralità, pulizia, etica, commozione e fervore sono parole e sentimenti che non posso sopportare. Ma capisco perfettamente e apprezzo: entusiasmo e ammirazione, ispirazione e disperazione, passione e riservatezza, dissoluzione e castità, tristezza e dolore, felicità e riso.

Io comunque sono una figura stupefacente, anche se non mi piace molto parlarne.

Per una persona adulta la presenza dei bambini è offensiva. E ecco, ai tempi del grande imperatore Aleksandr Vil'berdat, mostrare a una persona adulta un bambino veniva considerata la massima offesa. Era peggio che sputare in faccia a uno, anche se lo si beccava, diciamo in una narice. L'offesa del bambino dava origine in genere a un duello all'ultimo sangue.

Io rispetto solo le giovani donne sane e formose. Gli altri rappresentanti dell'umanità li guardo con diffidenza.

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Read: December 2017

He had not merely said "welcome" but "welcome back", as though he somehow knew that she was back. She thanked him, and in the grey of the evening darkness, the air burdened with smells, she ached with an almost unbearable emotion that she could not name. It was nostalgic and melancholy, a beautiful sadness for the things she had missed and the things she would never know. Later, sitting on the couch in Ranyinudo's small stylish living room, her feet sunk into the too-soft carpet, the flat-screen TV perched on the opposite wall, Ifemelu looked unbelievingly at herself. She had done it. She had come back.

How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.

Ifemelu decided to stop faking an American accent on a sunlit day in July, the same day she met Blaine. It was convincing, the accent. She had perfected, from careful watching of friends and newscasters, the blurring of the t, the creamy roll of the r, the sentences starting with "so," and the sliding response of "oh really," but the accent creaked with consciousness, it was an act of will. It took an effort, the twisting of lip, the curling of tongue. If she were in a panic, or terrified, or jerked awake during a fire, she would not remember how to produce those American sounds.

Because this is America. You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things.

In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters.

And so began her heady days full of cliché: she felt fully alive, her heart beat faster when he arrived at the door, and she viewed each morning like the unwrapping of a gift. [...] This was love, to be eager for tomorrow.

When she told him about her American life, he listened with a keenness close to desperation. He wanted to be part of everything she had done, be familiar with every emotion she had felt. Once she had told him, "The thing about cross-cultural relationships is that you spend so much time explaining. My ex-boyfriends and I spent a lot of time explaining. I sometimes wondered whether we would even have anything at all to say to each other if we were from the same place."

Each memory stunned her with its blinding luminosity. Each brought with it a sense of unassailable loss, a great burden hurtling towards her, and she wished she could duck, lower herself so that it would bypass her, so that she would save herself.

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Read: December 2017

Nothing in the world, I thought to myself, is as old as what was futuristic in the past.

Would you know what he meant if the author said he never really saw her face, that faces were fictions he increasingly could not read, a reductive way of building features in the memory, even if that memory was then projected into the present, onto the area between the forehead and the chin? He could, of course, enumerate the features: gray-blue eyes, what they call a full mouth, thick eyebrows that she was probably careful to have threaded, a small scar high on the left cheek, and so on. And sometimes these features did briefly integrate into an higher-order unity, as letters integrate into words, words into sentence. But like words dissolving into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and plots, combining these element into a face required forgetting them, letting them dematerialize into an effect, and that somehow never happened for long with Hannah.

"I promised to pass through a series of worlds with you," I remembered from her vows.

His narrator was characterized above all by his anxiety regarding the disconnect between his internal experience and his social self-presentation.

So much of the most important personal news I'd received in the last several years had come to me by smartphone while I was abroad in the city that I could plot on a map, could represent spatially the events, such as they were, of my early thirties. Place a thumbtack on the wall or drop a flag on Google Maps at Lincoln Center, where, beside the fountain, I took a call from Jon informing me that, for whatever complex of reasons, a friend had shot himself; mark the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, where I read the message ("Apologies for the mass e-mail...") a close cousin sent out describing the dire condition of her newborn; waiting in line at the post office on Atlantic, the adhan issuing from the adjacent mosque, I received your wedding announcement and was shocked to be shocked, crushed, and started a frightening multi week descent, worse for being so embarrassingly cliched; while in the bathroom at the SoHo Crate and Barrel--the finest semipublic restroom in lower Manhattan--I learned I'd been awarded a grant that would take me overseas for a summer, and so came to associate the corner of Broadway and Houston with all that transpired in Morocco; at Zucotti Park I heard my then-girlfriend was not--as she'd been convinced--pregnant; while buying discounted dress socks at the Century 21 department store across from Ground Zero, I was informed by text that a friend in Oakland had been hospitalized after the police had broken his ribs. And so on: each of these experiences of reception remained, as it were, in situ, so that whenever I returned to a zone where significant news had been received, I discovered that the news and an echo of its attendant affect still awaited me like a curtain of beads.

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Read: October 2017

What was once fully there, absented itself over time in tiny increments, each one unnoticed by me. I recall now a fragment of something hard and white in the sink, something soft torn and vinegary in the bedside waste-basket. A tooth, a stockings, what I remember least.

Ellen’s voice has gone. First, I lost what she had said, all those everyday weaves of words that make one belong or angry or lost. Then I forgot how she spoke: the pitch, the timbre, the rhythm. Maybe she was one of those people whose everyday statement rises querulously at the end, suggesting that everything is in question. I say something aloud; I think I might have forgotten what the human voice sounds like.

Following the beautiful or ugly animal necessities, pretence is how life comes about. Pretence shaped by the pretence of others, pressured by time like air weighing on a lake, or rock saddled on rock, or great, impermanent expanses of nothing grinding away on nothing. I told myself I had governance over the passing objects, some of them personas. I acted part of a part that was necessary. I read enchantment in everything dead. How fresh and lovely is disbelief, flowering in the mind. I faked enlightenment. I made a flicker. What exactly? Mush in the head. Thinking, thinking.

Play is not fun. It is what we must do in order to live. If I win I might live well before I die but, nonetheless, I experience the aguish of playing the game. Anxiety is the primary condition of play. Our smiles are grimaces. Our laughter: the sound of rage surging up from out guts. Most of you people are the product of a mentality that see idleness as the enemy of material progress.

Disenchantment is how the game ends. The rules become, not just apparent, but the only visible part of play; the spirit has departed, the players are brought low and what was spontaneous and jubilant — the broad, chaotic joy — becomes cramped and weakened until the last, fading, playing soul, palms held out, voices the breath of a cry saying "peace, peace" but meaning "end me".

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Read: October 2017

A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others.

Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.

How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature. People are unequal, not because Hammurabi said so, but because Enlil and Marduk decreed it. People are equal, not because Thomas Jefferson said so, but because God created them that way. Free markets are the best economic system, not because Adam Smith said so, but because these are the immutable laws of nature.

Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.

The Worship of Man The last 300 years are often depicted as an age of growing secularism, in which religions have increasingly lost their importance. If we are talking about theist religions, this is largely correct. But if we take into consideration natural-law religions, then modernity turns out to be an age of intense religious fervour, unparalleled missionary efforts, and the bloodiest wars of religion in history. The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam. Islam is of course different from Communism, because Islam sees the superhuman order governing the world as the edict of an omnipotent creator god, whereas Soviet Communism did not believe in gods. But Buddhism too gives short shrift to gods, and yet we commonly classify it as a religion. Like Buddhists, Communists believed in a superhuman order of natural and immutable laws that should guide human actions. Whereas Buddhists believe that the law of nature was discovered by Siddhartha Gautama, Communists believed that the law of nature was discovered by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The similarity does not end there. Like other religions, Communism too has its holy scripts and prophetic books, such as Marx’s Das Kapital, which foretold that history would soon end with the inevitable victory of the proletariat. Communism had its holidays and festivals, such as the First of May and the anniversary of the October Revolution. It had theologians adept at Marxist dialectics, and every unit in the Soviet army had a chaplain, called a commissar, who monitored the piety of soldiers and officers. Communism had martyrs, holy wars and heresies, such as Trotskyism. Soviet Communism was a fanatical and missionary religion. A devout Communist could not be a Christian or a Buddhist, and was expected to spread the gospel of Marx and Lenin even at the price of his or her life. Religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order. The theory of relativity is not a religion, because (at least so far) there are no human norms and values that are founded on it. Football is not a religion because nobody argues that its rules reflect superhuman edicts. Islam, Buddhism and Communism are all religions, because all are systems of human norms and values that are founded on belief in a superhuman order.

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Read: September 2017

The recollections of an older man are different than those of a young man. What seemed vital at forty may lose its significance at seventy. We manufacture stories, after all, from the fleeting sensory material that bombards us at every instant, a fragmented series of pictures, conversations, doors, and the touch of things and people. We delete most of it to live with some semblance of order, and the reshuffling of memory goes on until we die.

People can't help what they feel. It's what they do that counts

I've always thought that love thrives on a certain kind of distance, that it requires an awed separateness to continue. Without that necessary remove, the physical minutiae of the other person grows ugly in its magnification.

"Forgetting," I said, "is probably as much a part of life as remembering. We're all amnesiacs."

I'm not sure that love is an excuse for everything.

We all live there, I thought to myself, in the imaginary stories we tell ourselves about our lives.

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Read: August 2017

It occurred to me, for the first time with such clarity that what remains are not the exceptional moments, not the events, but precisely the nothingeverhappens. Time, freed from the claim of exceptionality. [...] In the small and the insignificant — that's where lifes hides.

Old age is getting used to things.

Even if you weren’t born in Versailles, Athens, Rome, or Paris, the sublime will always find a form in which to appear before you. If you haven’t read Pseudo Longinus, haven’t heard of Kant, or if you inhabit the eternal, illiterate fields of anonymous villages and towns, of empty days and nights, the sublime will reveal itself to you in your own language. As smoke from a chimney on a winter morning, as a slice of blue sky, as a cloud that reminds you of something from another world, as a pile of buffalo shit. The sublime is everywhere.

The world is set up in such as way that it looks obvious and irrefutable. But what would happen if for a moment we turned the whole system upside down and instead of the enduring, the constant, the eternal, and the dead, we decided to revere that which is fleeting, changeable, transitory, yet alive?

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Read: July 2017

Sometimes a banana with coffee is nice. It ought not to be too ripe — in fact there should be a definite remainder of green along the stalk, and if there isn't, forget about it. Though admittedly that is easier said than done. Apples can be forgotten about, but not bananas, not really. They don't in fact take at all well to being forgotten about. They wizen and stink of putrid and go almost black.

I haven't yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things: I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don't think my first language can be written down at all.

Everybody knows deep down that life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that's not something that ought to be glossed over or denied because without frustration there would hardly be any need to daydream. And daydreams return me to my original sense of things and I luxuriate in these fervid primary visions until I am entirely my unalloyed self again. So even though it sometimes feels as if one could just about die from disappointment I must concede that in fact in a rather perverse way it is precisely those things I did not get that are keeping me alive.

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Read: July 2017

The more abysmal the experience of the actual, the greater the implied heights of the virtual.

Our contempt for any particular poem must be perfect, be total, because only a ruthless reading that allows us to measure the gap between the actual and the virtual will enable to to experience, if not a genuine poem—no such thing—a place for the genuine, whatever that might mean.

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Read: July 2017

I found myself remembering the day in kindergarten when the teachers showed us Dumbo, and I realized for the first time that all the kids in the class, even the bullies, rooted for Dumbo, against Dumbo's tormentors. Invariably they laughed and cheered, both when Dumbo succeeded and when bad things happened to his enemies. But they're you, I thought to myself. How did they not know? They didn't know. It was astounding, an astounding truth. Everyone thought they were Dumbo.

Most people, the minute they meet you, were sizing you up for some competition for resources. It was as if everyone lived in fear of a shipwreck, where only so many people would fit on the lifeboat, and they were constantly trying to stake out their property and identify dispensable people – people they could get rid of.... Everyone is trying to reassure themselves: I'm not going to get kicked off the boat, they are. They're always separating people into two groups, allies and dispensable people... The number of people who want to understand what you're like instead of trying to figure out whether you get to stay on the boat - it's really limited.

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Read: May 2017

A free man should walk slowly, that's what the Greeks thought, says W. The slave hurries, but the free man can take all day.

It's a sign of the end, he says, when you can no longer make real distinctions.

I live each day as though it were the day after the last.

For me, the afternoon's always planning-time, world conquest-time, as W. calls it. I have to pretend to some kind of hold on the future, W. has noticed. It's like climber throwing up grappling hook, or Spiderman swinging by his squirted webs. I'm never happy in the moment, W. says. I'm never happy in the belly of the afternoon.

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Read: May 2017

Yesterday he experienced a sort of dark afternoon of the soul. Some hours of terrible negativity. A sense, essentially, that he had wasted his entire life, and now it was over. The sun was shining outside.

That's the thing about fate, the way you only understand what your fate is when it's too late to do anything about it.

Floating over the world, the hard earth fathoms down through shrouds of mist and vapour, the thought hit him like a missile. Wham. This is it. This is all there is. There is nothing else. A silent explosion. He is still staring out the window. This is all there is. It's not a joke. Life is not a joke.

He likes the little world of the university. He likes it. The fairy-tale topography of the town. A make-believe world of walled gardens. The quietness of summer. The stone-floored lodge, and the deferential porter. Yes, a make believe world, like something imagined by a child. Somewhere to hide.

Everything so settled, you see. It all happened a thousand years ago. And the medievalist sits in his study, in a shaft of sunlight, lost in a reverie of life on the far side of that immense lapse of time. The whole exercise is, in its way, a memento mori. A meditation on the effacing nature of time.

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Read: April 2017

I’m starting to think paradise isn’t eternal contentment. It’s more like there’s something eternal about feeling contented. There’s no such thing as eternal life, because you’re never going to outrun time, but you can still escape time if you’re contented, because then time doesn’t matter.

There's the imperative to keep secrets, and the imperative to have them known. How do you know that you're a person, distinct from other people? By keeping certain things to yourself. You guard them inside you, because, if you don't, there's no distinction between inside and outside. Secrets are the way you know you even have an inside. A radical exhibitionist is a person who has forfeited his identity. But identity in a vacuum is also meaningless. Sooner or later, the inside of you needs a witness. Otherwise you're just a cow, a cat, a stone, a thing in the world, trapped in your thingness. To have an identity, you have to believe that other identities equally exist. You need closeness with other people. And how is closeness built? By sharing secrets. . . . Your identity exists at the intersection of these lines of trust.

I’m telling you that I will be all right without you. Everything we have is temporary, the joy, the suffering, everything. I had the joy of experiencing your goodness for a very long time. It was enough. I have no right to ask for more.

Filtering isn’t phoniness—it’s civilization.

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Read: January 2017

They were sorry, they were saying with their bodies, they were accepting each other back, and that feeling, that feeling of being accepted back again and again, of someone’s affection for you expanding to encompass whatever new flawed thing had just manifested in you, that was the deepest, dearest thing he’d ever...

Why was she dancing? No reason. Just alive, I guess.

We left home, married, had children of our own, found the seeds of meanness blooming also within us.

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