“The American sat drinking and listening, sometimes recognizing that someone had said something very important which out of respect for them all he would not write down in their presence but do his best to remember exactly (the night silently torn open by a faraway shell-flash which could not keep the night’s flesh from cohering again); he assumed that none of them knew why what they said could matter to other people and times; after all, how could it be of more than temporary value to them themselves who already understood the shells? Perhaps after ten or twenty years, should they survive so long, they might grow sufficiently fortunate as to forget the significance of what people said in such a situation, and then, if he had written it down and they discovered and read it, it might mean something new to them, and even lend them something like fulfillment.”—William T. Vollmann, “Listening to the Shells.”
“It’s rough up here. You could probably understand why a lot of people didn’t care for [Bob Dylan]. Myself included. I hunt and fish. Poetry? Sorry. People worked in the mines. They’re not listening to poems.”—David Vidmar, mining industry consultant from Hibbing, Minnesota, qtd. in David Kinney’s The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob.
“After the 9/11 attacks no Bush administration official took responsibility, apologized, resigned, or was fired for what was the gravest national security failure in American history… In contrast, following Pearl Harbor, to which 9/11 has often been compared, Admiral Husband Kimmel, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, who had been warned of a possible Japanese attack, was immediately relieved of his command and demoted; a year later he retired. The Roosevelt administration also quickly investigated what had happened at Pearl Harbor. Within seven weeks of the attacks, the Roberts Commission, which had been appointed by President Roosevelt, issued its first congressional report. It was one of *nine* official inquiries into Pearl Harbor convened in the middle of World War II. By contrast, the Bush administration thwarted congressional efforts to investigate 9/11, and only reluctantly acceded to an investigative committee more than a year after the attacks, following intense public pressure from the victims’ families. Vice President Dick Cheney claimed improbably in May 2002 that he wanted to avoid the ‘circus atmosphere’ that would come with establishing a separate investigatory body.”—Peter L. Bergen, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda.
“Landscape in childhood is not like the landscape that follows later; they are charged in very different ways. In that landscape every rock, every tree had a meaning, and because everything was seen for the first time and because it was seen so many times, it was anchored in the depths of your consciousness, not as something vague or approximate, the way the landscape outside a house appears to adults if they close their eyes and it has to be summoned forth, but as something with immense precision and detail. In my mind, I have only to open the door and go outside for the images to come streaming toward me. The gravel in the driveway, almost bluish in color in the summer. Oh, that alone, the driveways of childhood!”—Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book Three (Boyhood).
“Today two groups of Americans follow soccer most keenly. The first are immigrants, chiefly the country’s approximately 53 million Hispanics. The second are the educated elite. There’s a growing American tribe of “soccer nerds,” who insist on calling the game “football” and can knock you out with long analyses of Manchester City’s defensive issues… Soccer—especially European soccer—makes American fans feel like cosmopolitans. That may be why American soccer fans tend to be Democrats, even though sports fans overall lean Republican.”—Simon Kuper, “The Global Game,” Harper’s Magazine, July 2014.
“It didn’t occur to me then, though it certainly does now, that it was years since I’d roused myself from my stupor of misery and self-absorption; between anomie and trance, inertia and parenthesis and gnawing my own heart out, there were a lot of small, easy, everyday kindnesses I’d missed out on; and even the word *kindness* was like rising from unconsciousness into some hospital awareness of voices, and people, from a stream of digitized machines.”—Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
She could disappear here. The arch would lead to another, and that to yet another, and take her far beyond any hope of return to the human world. Eden again. Return to animal awareness; the eternal Now before the Fall armed humanity with consciousness and care. Beyond money, beyond power and telecom and tax bills, beyond mortgages and bank loans and pensions and insurance. Beyond the day-to-day drudge of pushing the boulder of living in a society up the asymptotic slope of Mt. Entropy. Freedom without a bar code. She did not wonder the Western industrials wanted it ring-fenced… But it is an insidious Eden where everything may be had by reaching out to take. It is the determination to push that boulder of hopes and dreams through the relentless material world that makes you human. If you were to get up from this place and walk in there and never come back, the [person] that you have made yourself become would evaporate.
"It’s beautiful, it’s awe inspiring, it’s the closest I’ve come to a religious experience, and it’s the end of everything it means to be human."
"Or a gate into new ways of being human," Jake said. "What the Chaga says to me is, now you don’t need to compete for resources, now all the rules of supply and demand are torn up: there is enough here for everyone, so now you can experiment with new ways of living, new ways of interacting, new societies and structures and sociologies, knowing that you have permission to fail. Screw it up and it won’t cost you and your children your lives. Like America was, back in the pioneer days when all the religious communities came over from Europe because there was space for them to follow their beliefs without interference. Continual experiment."
“The next weekend she took the train to see Jonas at Princeton. The ride was pleasant and she felt very grown-up, in a strange land traveling by herself. She did not think she could ever get used to how green everything was. And yet everywhere you stopped, there was a faint odor of mold, of decay, as if no matter what you did, the trees would come back, the vines would grow over, your work would be covered up and you would rot into the moist earth, no different from anyone who had come before you. It had once been like Texas, but now it was just people, endless people; there was no room for anything new.”—Phillipp Meyer, The Son.
“Oklahoma Territory…was a wild border country, a primitive and violent place where life was rough and cheap; its inhabitants were mostly fugitive slaves and savages and the most barbaric savages were white. The worst elements…were mixed together in an accursed hinterland of mud and loneliness, race prejudice, rotgut liquor, blood, and terrible tornadoes where the civilization left behind was a dream of the far past, all but forgotten. There was little worship and no law, no culture, morals, nor good manners, and nothing the least bit romantic about any of it.”—Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country
He was silent for the space of three sips of whiskey.
"Fall," he said. "Fall in Nebraska, which is all silver and gold; silver of frost, gold of Halloween pumpkins in backyards and yellow tomatoes on the vine and bare fields of corn stubble and a yellow edge to the horizon under the purple snow clouds that come down from the Dakotas. A fall that is the cold of evenings when you make a fire and your whiskey catches the light and the heat of it, that is just like the line in the song about when the wind comes whistlin’ down the plain, and gets into the eaves and you hear the roof shingles rattle, but you’re in no hurry to worry about them, not just yet."
My God, Gaby thought, I am about to have sex with a Frank Capra movie.
“Tell someone he’s a Nazi long enough, and he may just become one, just for the hell of it and as a way of saying fuck you to the powers-that-be.”—Alexander Cockburn, A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption, And American Culture
“Mixed feelings about literature — the desire to annex its virtues while simultaneously belittling them — are typical of our culture today, which doesn’t know quite how to deal with an art form, like the novel, that is both democratic and demanding.”—Adam Kirsch, “Are the new ‘golden age’ TV shows the new novels?”, The New York Times Book Review, 2 March 2014.
“There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.”—Stephen King, 'Salem's Lot.
“Socrates taught Plato and Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle taught/Alexander the Great, who founded a city that would house the most/voluminous library of the ancient world—until it was burned, until/forgetting came back into vogue. The great minds come down through the/years like monkeys descending from high branches. Always, a leopard is/waiting to greet them—in the tall grass, among the magnetic berries, in the/place they should have checked.”—"Diminution," Charles Rafferty, The New Yorker, Feb. 17/24, 2014.
“They have never known hunger or want, the people of this country. It has been two generations since they knew anything close to it, and even then it was like a voice in a distant room. They think they have known sadness, but their sadness is that of a child who has spilled his ice cream on the grass at a birthday party. There is no … how is the English? … attenuation in them. They spill each other’s blood with great vigor.”—Stephen King, 'Salem's Lot (1975)
“Once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.”—Javier Marias
When all of us can listen to every piece of music that was ever written, at any time, from anywhere that we want, how can we hear anything?
What happens is we cease becoming adventurers and we cease becoming participants and subjects in this grand experiment of art, and we simply become consumers and really good commodity experts. When we have the entire gamut for our consumption, we just go to those things that we like the easiest. And that’s the problem. It’s hard to listen all the way through a three-minute song when we know that with the flick of a finger, we can pull up something that might be slightly better for our current mood.
That’s the crisis. It’s the opposite crisis of Messiaen, where they’ve got three battered instruments and they have to make something to fill the emptiness of their days — days when they can hear nothing. Now we can hear everything, but we can’t make the time to be urgent about hearing anything.
“The first time one hears [“I Want to Hold Your Hand”], it’s impossible to gauge where the melodic line, harmonic construction, vocal revelation and rhythmic impetus are headed: from colloquial opening, to blues turnaround, through a meditative interim that explodes in an outrageous, soaring exclamation—“I can’t hide! I can’t hide!”—in three-part harmony, Ringo slamming away, until it all detonates again.”—Mikal Gilmore, “How the Beatles Took America,” Rolling Stone, Jan. 16, 2014.
“Opposing itself to the flickering of crowds across the wide white crosswalk-lines, the clatter of a million high heels through subway tunnels crammed with boutiques, the girls who dye their hair red, blonde or brown, the restaurant eels in crystalline tanks, the necktied salarymen rapt in their sadomasochistic comic books, the department stores excitingly bright with new electric goods, the clicking turnstiles, multistorey advertising screens, walkways and throughways, the vending machines so ubiquitous and diverse that they really ought to have their own Audubon field guide, the unending beeping and movement of Shinjuku Station at rush hour, the ball bearing music of pachinko parlors packed with gamblers all in rows, the breathlessly variable, deliciously novel, commercial, showy *nowness* of urban life, Noh offers us long silences punctuated by a single chant, every instant as perfect as an ideally composed photograph; time stops in order to show us that fact.”—William T. Vollmann, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater.
“Because, okay, the thing was—he saw it now, was starting to see it—if some guy, at the end, fell apart, and said or did bad things, or had to be helped, helped to quite a considerable extent? So what? What of it? Why should he not do or say weird things or look strange or disgusting? Why should the shit not run down his legs? Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping, and was still afraid of that, and yet, at the same time, now saw that there could still be many—many drops of goodness, is how it came to him—many drops of happy—of good fellowship—ahead, and those drops of fellowship were not—had never been—his to withheld. Withhold.”—George Saunders, “Tenth of December.”
“Our lives are filled with performances that have been so woven into our daily routine that the artificial and performative aspect has slipped into invisibility. PowerPoint presentations are a kind of theater, a kind of augmented stand-up. Too often it’s a boring and tedious genre, and audiences are subjected to the bad as well as the good. Failing to acknowledge that these are performances is to assume that anyone could and should be able to do it. You wouldn’t expect anyone who can simply sing to get up on stage, so why expect everyone with a laptop to be competent in this new theatrical form? Performers try harder.”—David Byrne, How Music Works
“It still feels wrong to travel, to cover the eight hundred miles to my family in that two-hour plane ride, as if the land beneath me—between us—didn’t matter. As if the terrain weren’t an obstacle, weren’t even real, my plane window a TV screen. In a plane, we gloss over the landscape like aloof gods who don’t even believe in the existence of their own creations.”—Jill Sisson Quinn, “The Myth of Home,” Ecotone 15 (2013)
“"I noticed it first in class," he said. "You say ‘this’ instead of ‘that’; ‘this cream,’ not ‘that cream.’ The line people draw between the things they consider *this* and the things they consider *that* is the perimeter of their sphere of intimacy. You see? Everything inside is *this*; everything inside is close, is intimate. Since you pointed at the cream and it is farther from you than I am, ‘this’ suggests that I am among the things you consider close to you. I’m flattered," he said, and handed me the creamer, which was, like him, sweating. What an idea — that with a few words you could catch another person in a little grammatical clutch, arrange the objects of the world such that they bordered the two of you.”—Rebecca Lee, “The Banks of the Vistula.”
“Of course," he explained with a weary smile, "as long as you can tot up your daily bag in the trenches it’s a sort of satisfaction—though I don’t quite know why; anyhow, you’re so dead-beat at night that no dreams come. But lying here staring at the ceiling one goes through the whole business once an hour, at the least: the attack, the slaughter, the ruins … and worse … Haven’t I seen and heard things enough on *this* side to know what’s been happening on the other? Don’t try to sugar the dose. I *like* it bitter.”—Edith Wharton, “Coming Home.”
“This is the curious abyss that divides the closest kin, that the tender curiosity appropriate to lovers is inappropriate, here, where the bond is involuntary, so that the most important things stay undiscovered.”—Angela Carter, “Sugar Daddy.”
I wasn’t trying to play beautiful music, I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single absolute of our frail existence—one day an aeroplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash. It could happen at any time…
On stage I stood on the tips of my toes, arms outstretched, swooping like a plane. As I raised the stuttering guitar above my head, I felt I was holding up the bloodied standard of endless centuries of mindless war. Explosions. Trenches. Bodies. The eerie screaming of the wind. I had made my choice, for now. It would be music.