“I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything. As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression.” —Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel, 1941
“How freely we live depends both on our political system and on our vigilance in defending its liberties. How long we live depends both on our genes and on the quality of our health care. How well we live—that is, how thoughtfully, how nobly, how virtuously, how joyously, how lovingly—depends both on our philosophy and on the way we apply it to all else.” — Lou Marinoff, Plato Not Prozac
“The crowd, the constant noise, the breath and hum, a basso rumble building now and then, the genderness of what they share in their experience of the game, how a man will scratch his wrist or shape a line of swearwords. And the lapping of applause that dies down quickly and is never enough. They are waiting to be carried on the sound of rally chant and rhythmic handclap, the set forms and repetitions. This is the power they keep in reserve for the right time. It is the thing that will make something happen, change the structure of the game and get them leaping to their feet, flying up together in a free thunder that shakes the place crazy.” —Don DeLillo, Underworld
“Robert Richard Randall was a wealthy Manhattan merchant and landowner, whose family’s fortune came mainly from the sea. He died in 1801, and, as a gesture of gratitude for his life’s considerable comforts, left the bulk of his estate to establish a sanctuary for ‘aged, decrepit and worn-out seamen.’… In 1833, they opened Sailors’ Snug Harbor—a name that Randall had specified in his will. At its peak, in 1918, it comprised two dozen substantial buildings and housed more than a thousand former seamen, each of whom was issued two new suits a year, purchased from Brooks Brothers… Snug Harbor’s governor from 1867 until 1884 was Thomas Melville, whose older brother Herman visited often, perhaps attracted by a local abundance of mentally unbalanced one-legged sailors.” — David Owen, “Sanctuary: Secret Garden,” The New Yorker
“The loves we share with a city are often secret loves… In Algiers whoever is young and alive finds sanctuary and occasion for triumphs everywhere: in the bay, the sun, the red and white games on the seaward terraces, the flowers and sports stadiums, the cool-legged girls… Those brief moments when day topples into night must be peopled with secret signs and summons for my Algiers to be so closely linked to them. When I spend some time far from that town, I imagine its twilights as promises of happiness. On the hills above the city there are paths among the mastics and olive trees. I see flights of black birds rise against the green horizon. In the sky suddenly divested of its sun something relaxes. A whole little nation of red clouds stretches out until it is absorbed in the air… To feel one’s attachment to a certain region, one’s love for a certain group of men, to know that there is always a spot where one’s heart will feel at peace — these are many certainties for a single human life.” — Albert Camus, Summer in Algiers, 1936
“The loops eventually stopped at the realization that before it could be asked ‘Where did he go?’ it must be asked ‘What is the ‘he’ that is gone?’… What had to be seen was that the Chris I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, and that although the pattern included the flesh and blood of Chris, that was not all there was to it. The pattern was larger than Chris and myself, and related us in ways that neither of us understood completely and neither of us was in complete control of.” — Robert Pirsig, Afterword of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
This is a two-minute video about a man who has inspired Candy — Joseph Paxton, a gardener turned architect in the 1800s. It’s a lesson on where good ideas come from and making your own discipline. Watch on Youtube here.
Soon after one picks up man’s trail in the earliest campfire or chipped-stone tool one finds evidence of interests and anxieties that have no animal counterpart; in particular, a ceremonious concern for the dead, manifested in their deliberate burial — with growing evidences of pious apprehension and dread… Mid the uneasy wanderings of paleolithic man, the dead were the first to have a permanent dwelling: a cavern, a mound marked by a cairn, a collective barrow. These were landmarks to which the living probably returned at intervals, to commune with or placate the ancestral spirits… The city of the dead antedates the city of the living.” — Lewis Mumford, The City in History, 1961
“From a therapeutic standpoint symptoms are to be welcomed, for they not only serve as arrows that point to the wound, they also show a healthy, self-regulating psyche at work. Jung observed that a neurosis ‘must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning.’” — James Hollis, The Middle Passage
“I had started out in silence, written as quietly as I had read, and then eventually people read some of what I had written, and some of the readers entered my world or drew me into theirs. I started out in silence and traveled until I arrived at a voice that was heard far away—first the silent voice that can only be read, and then I was asked to speak aloud and to read aloud. When I began to read aloud another voice, one I hardly recognized, emerged from my mouth. Maybe it was more relaxed, because writing is speaking to no one, and even when you’re reading to a crowd, you’re still in that conversation with the absent, the faraway, the not-yet-born, the unknown and the long-gone for whom writers write, the crowd of the absent who hover all around the desk.” — Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
“ What our age thinks of as the ‘shadow’ and inferior part of the psyche contains more than something merely negative. The very fact that through self-knowledge, that is, by exploring our own souls, we come upon the instincts and their world of imagery should throw some light on the powers slumbering in the psyche, of which we are seldom aware so long as all goes well. They are potentialities of the greatest dynamism, and it depends, entirely on the preparedness and attitude of the conscious mind whether the irruption of these forces, and the images and ideas associated with them, will tend towards construction or catastrophe.” — Carl Jung
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have one before us, the labyrinth is fully known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” – Joseph Campbell
“He loved, first of all, the ride into the city. As with many lonely children, his problem was not solitude itself but that he was never left free to enjoy it.” – Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
“Two of the three original aspects of temporary settlement have to do with sacred things, not just with physical survival: they relate to a more valuable and meaningful kind of life, with a consciousness that entertains past and future, apprehending the primal mystery of sexual generation and the ultimate mystery of death and what may lie beyond death. As the city takes form, much more will be added: but these central concerns abide as the very reason for the city’s existence, inseparable from the economic substance that makes it possible. In the earliest gatherings about a grave or a painted symbol, a great stone or a sacred grove, one has the beginning of a succession of civic institutions that range from the temple to the astronomical observatory, from the theater to the university.” - Lewis Mumford, The City in History, 1968
“A place of one’s own – where one can be alone – is essential. And that place, however small and humble or large and spacious, should be made one’s very own in the fullest sense of the phrase. That means not only should it be sacred to one’s self, but it should be used as an expression of one’s personality… It is no small pleasure, bit by bit, to make the room, by well-thought-out additions, more efficient, more comfortable, more native to one’s self, until it exactly expresses what one is and what one wants to do there, and reaches the acme of usefulness, beauty, and pleasure for its occupant. For just as the fish must have its water, and the bird its air, so you and I must have the immediate environment native to us for comfort, pleasure, and harmonious self-development.” – C.G.L. Du Cann, Teach Yourself to Live, 1955
“That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home… To envision us approaching and pounding on this door, increasingly hard, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it; we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and ramming and kicking. That, finally, the door opens… and it opens outward – we’ve been inside what we wanted all along.” – David Foster Wallace, Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness
“We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.” – Barack Obama, speaking in Tucson
“The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we’re alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly self-aware, the submicroscopic moments. He said this more than once, Elster did, in more than one way. His life happened, he said, when he sat staring at a blank wall, thinking about dinner…
He said we do this all the time, all of us, we become ourselves beneath the running thoughts and dim images, wondering idly when we’ll die. This is how we live and think whether we know it or not. These are the unsorted thoughts we have looking out the train window, small dull smears of meditative panic.” – Don DeLillo, Point Omega
“If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.” – David Foster Wallace
“Our ability to think about delay is a central part of the human condition. It is a gift, a tool we can use to examine our lives. Life might be a race against time, but it is enriched when we rise above our instincts and stop the clock to process and understand what we are doing and why. A wise decision requires reflection, and reflection requires pause. The converse of Socrates’s famous admonition is that the examined life just might be worth living.” – Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay
“Here’s the truth: People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It’s not that simple. We’re all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It’s a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.
This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here’s how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That’s the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.
But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.
The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them. The best way to do this is with a list.
It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.” - Jonathan Nolan, Memento Mori
“There was only enough money for one ticket, so one of us would go in, look at the exhibits, and report back to the other. On one such occasion, we went to the relatively new Whitney Museum on the Upper East Side. It was my turn to go in, and I reluctantly entered without him. I no longer remember the exhibit, but I do recall peering through one of the museum’s unique trapezoidal windows, seeing Robert across the street, leaning against a parking meter, smoking a cigarette. He waited for me, and as we headed toward the subway he said, ‘One day we’ll go in together, and the work will be ours.’” – Patti Smith, Just Kids
“But as the city has been losing functions it has been reasserting its most ancient one: a place where people come together, face-to-face. More than ever, the center is the place for news and gossip, for the creation of ideas, for marketing them and swiping them, for hatching deals, for starting parades. This is the stuff of the public life of the city – by no means wholly admirable, often abrasive, noisy, contentious, without apparent purpose. But this human congress is the genius of the place, its reason for being, its great marginal edge. This is the engine, the city’s true export. Whatever makes this congress easier, more spontaneous, more enjoyable is not at all a frill. It is the heart of the center of the city.” – William Whyte, City: Rediscovering the Center, 1988