The Quodlibet of Messmore Breamworthy

Some very good things have been said. I'm keeping track.

Acceptance

A squirrel sat on a tree, dreaming. How wonderful it would be to become something other than a squirrel! A tree? But then birds would sit on him... An insect perhaps? No, frogs would eat him... Maybe a fish, then! Only to be swallowed by water snakes? No, thought the squirrel. Better remain a squirrel on a tree.

Ram Singh Urveti, The Night Life of TREES

Shyam, Bhajju, Durga Bai and Ram Singh Urveti, The Night Life of TREES, Chennai, Tara Publishing, 2006, unpaginated.

Admiration

Eleventy-one years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993, ch. 1, p. 38

Bureaucracy

I learned that the world of men as it exists today is a bureaucracy. This is an obvious truth, of course, though it is also one the ignorance of which causes great suffering. But moreover, I discovered, in the only way that a man ever really learns anything important, the real skill that is required to succeed in a bureaucracy. I mean really succeed: do good, make a difference, serve. I discovered the key. The key is not efficiency, or probity, or insight, or wisdom. It is not political cunning, interpersonal skills, raw IQ, loyalty, vision, or any of the qualities that the bureaucratic world calls virtues, and tests for. The key is a certain capacity that underlies all these qualities, rather the way that an ability to breathe and pump blood underlies all thought and action. The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breath, so to speak, without air. The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable. I met in the years 1984 and '85, two such men. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, New York: Little, Brown Company, 2011, p. 438.

Capitalism

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin, National Book Awards Acceptance Speech, 2014 (link).

Ich will den Kapitalismus lieben, weil so viel für ihn spricht. Ich will den Kapitalismus lieben, aber ich schaff' es einfach nicht.

Funny von Dannen, "Kapitalismus"

Funny Von Dannen, "Kapitalismus," Grooveman.

The wisdom and generosity of the corporate boardroom and the Wall Street Journal editorial page may be the best we can do in 1999. But by 2500? Surely it's more likely that we'll all be as gods by then than that we won't have evolved beyond Robert Bartley and Steve Forbes. Today half the human race has no sanitation, one-fourth has no clean water, one-fifth no adequate housing, and one-sixth no basic health services, while the amount Americans and Europeans spend annually on pet food, cosmetics, and ice cream would supply all those necessities, plus basic education, to everyone in the world who lacks them, with a great deal left over. Do anti-utopians really believe that this vile state of affairs, or its moral equivalent, will persist until 2500 and beyond? It's too fantastic.

George Scialabba, What are Intellectuals Good For?

George Scialabba, What are Intellectuals Good For? Boston: Pressed Wafer, 2009, p. 195.

Chess

Als quälend empfand Rumo den Schachunterricht. Das war so ziemlich das genaue Gegenteil von dem was er gerne tat. Er hätte am liebsten, wenn ihn ein Gegner während des Unterrichts in eine ausweglose Situation gebracht hatte, und das passierte andauernd, das Brett genommen und es ihm uber den Schädel gezogen. Aber es war einer der fundimentalen Regeln des Schachspiels das man so etwas nicht tat.

Walter Moers, Rumo

Walter Moers, Rumo, Audiobook, CD 8, Track 7.

Chess is a contributor to net human unhappiness, since the pleasure of victory is greatly exceeded by the pain of defeat.

Bill Hartston

Bill Hartston (link)

Consolation

It is the compensation which Life gives to those whom it has handled roughly that they shall be able to regard with a certain contempt the small troubles of the sheltered.

P. G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh

P. G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh, New York: Overlook Press, 2005, p. 78.

Conversation

There was a pause. I was conscious that I had failed her in some way—as I fail people so often in conversation—but too stupid to see in what way it was. In desperation I said, “You've been very active. And very successful.”

Gene Wolfe, Peace

Gene Wolfe, Peace, New York: Harper and Row, 1975, p. 170.

He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled, so I tactfully changed the subject.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

P. G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters, New York: Overlook Press, 1938, 2000, p. 9.

Disposability

The problem, of course, with throwing people away is that they don't go away. They stay in the society that turned its back on them. And whether that society likes it or not, they find all sorts of things to do.

Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Talents

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents, New York: Hachette Book Group, 2000, p. 416.

Economics

He tried to read an elementary economics text; it bored him past endurance, it was like listening to somebody interminably recounting a long and stupid dream.

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed, New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1974, p. 130.

Friendship

Als Beispiel für die richtige Art, Freunden einen Dienst zu erweisen, gab Herr K. folgende Geschichte zum besten. Zu einem alten Araber kamen drei junge Leute und sagte ihm: „Unser Vater ist gestorben. Er hat uns siebzehn Kamele hinterlassen und im Testament verfügt, daß der Älteste die Hälfte, der zweite ein Drittel und der Jüngste ein Neuntel der Kamele bekommen soll. Jetzt können wir uns über die Teilung nicht einigen; übernimm du die Entscheidung!" Der Araber dachte nach und sagte: „Wie ich es sehe, habt ihr, um gut teilen zu können, ein Kamel zu wenig. Ich habe selbst nur ein einziges Kamel, aber es steht euch zur Verfügung. Nehmt es und teilt dann, und bringt mir nur, was übrigbleibt." Sie bedankten sich für diesen Freundschaftsdienst, nahmen das Kamel mit und teilten die achtzehn Kamele nun so, daß der älteste die Hälfte, das sind neun, der zweite ein Drittel, das sind sechs, und der Jüngste ein Neuntel, das sind zwei Kamele bekam. Zu ihrem Erstaunen blieb, als sie ihre Kamele zur Seite geführt hatten, ein Kamel übrig. Dieses brachten sie, ihren Dank erneuernd, ihrem alten Freund zurück.

Bertold Brecht, Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner

Bertold Brecht, Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner: Der verwundete Sokrates. Hannover: Hannoversche Druck- und Verlegs-GmbH., 1959, p. 8.

Health

It is the flaw in the character of many excessively healthy young men that, while kind-hearted enough in most respects, they listen with a regrettable feeling of impatience to the confessions of those less happily situated as regards the ills of the flesh. Rightly or wrongly they hold that these statements should be reserved for the ear of the medical profession and other and more general topics selected for conversation with laymen.

P. G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh

P. G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh, New York: Overlook Press, 2005, p. 120.

Hesitation

Je länger man vor der Tür zögert, desto fremder wird man.

Franz Kafka, "Heimkehr"

Franz Kafka, "Heimkehr," Sämtliche Erzälungen, ed. Paul Raabe, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, 1987, p. 321.

Higher Education

The thesis that you're writing is a load of shit,
But I'm glad you finally finished it.

Phish, "Carini"

Phish, "Carini"

Imagination

There are few things harder to imagine than other people's conversations about yourself.

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010, p. 138

Look

Als [der berümte Geschichtsphilosoph und Kulturkritiker] nun zu reden begann und zum Beginn den Zuhörern einige Schmeicheleien sagte und für ihr zahlreiches Erscheinen dankte, da warf mir der Steppenwolf einen ganz kurzen Blick zu, einen Blick der Kritik über diese Worte und über die ganze Person des Redners, oh, einen unvergeßlichen und furchtbaren Blick, über dessen Bedeutung man ein ganzes Buch schreiben könnte! Der Blick kritisierte nicht bloß jenen Redner und machte den berühmten Mann durch seine zwingende, obwolf sanfte Ironie zunichte, das war das wenigste daran. Der Blick war viel eher traurig als ironisch, er war sogar abründig und hoffnungslos traurig; eine stille, gewissermaßen schon Gewohnheit und Form gewordene Verzweiflung war der Inhalt dieses Blickes. Er durchleuchtete mit seiner verzweifelten Helligkeit nicht bloß die Person des eitlen Redners, ironiserte und erledigte die Situation des Augenblicks, die Erwartung und Stimmung des Publikums, den etwas anmaßenden Titel der angekündigten Ansprach—nein, der Blick des Steppenwolfes durchdrang unsre ganze Zeit, das ganze betriebsame Getue, die ganze Streberei, die ganze Eitelkeit, das ganze oberflächliche Spiel einer eingebildeten, seichten Geistigkeit — ach, und leider ging der Blick noch teifer, ging noch viel weiter als bloß auf Mängel und Hoffnungslosigkeiten unserer Zeit, unsrer Geistigkeit, er sprach beredt in einer einzigen Sekunde den ganzen Zweifel eines Denkers, eines vielleicht Wissenden aus an der Würde, am Sinn des Menschenlebens überhaupt. Dieser Blick sagte: „Schau, solche Affen sind wir! Schau so ist der Mensch!” und alle Berühmtheit, alle Gescheitheit, alle Errungenschaften des Geistes, alle Anläufe zu Erhabenheit, Größe und Dauer im Menschlichen fielen zusammen und waren ein Affenspiel!

Herman Hesse, Der Steppenwolf

Herman Hesse, Der Steppenwolf, Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt/M. 1961, p 13-14.

Mistakes

I have learned from my mistakes and I am sure I can repeat them exactly.

Peter Cook

Peter Cook

It seems to me that what I write about—like most novelists—is people making mistakes and people—other people or the same people—trying to prevent or correct those mistakes while inevitably making more mistakes.

Ursula Le Guin, Cheek by Jowl

Ursula Le Guin, Cheek by Jowl, Seattle: Aqueduct Press, 2009, p. 6.

Mobile Devices

Yeah, I have given up on smartphones for quite a long time now, because it's annoying with so many apps and things.

Wesley So

Wesley So, New In Chess, 2017 #1, p. 65.

Naming

FAUST. Wie nennst du dich?
MEPHISTOPHELES. Die Frage scheint mir klein
Für einen, der das Wort so sehr verachtet,
Der, weit entfernt von allem Schein,
Nur in der Wesen Tiefe trachtet.
FAUST. Bei euch, ihr Herrn, kann man das Wesen
Gewöhnlich aus dem Namen lesen.

Faust: What is your name?
Mephistopheles: The question is absurd,
Surely, in one who seeks to know
The inmost essence, not the outward show,
And has such contempt for the mere word.
Faust: Ah, with such gentlemen as you
The name often conveys the essence too.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust Part One

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: Der Tragödie erster und zweiter Teil. Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1808, 1996, p. 47, ln. 1327-1332.

Faust, Part One trans. Peter Luke, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 41-2.

But we must in all cases attend to the nature of the thing without paying any regard to the word.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1776, 1976, Bk. IV, Ch. V, p. 29.

The name of a thing is entirely external to its nature. I know nothing of a man if I merely know his name is Jacob.

Karl Marx, Capital vol. I

Karl Marx, Capital vol. I, New York: Penguin, 1867, 1990, Ch. 3, p. 195.

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob.

Genesis 25: 24-26

The Torah: A Modern Commentary ed. W. Gunther Plaut, New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981, p. 173.

Overpopulation

Anyway, the fascinating thing was that I read in National Geographic that there are more people alive now than have died in human history. In other words, if everyone wanted to play Hamlet at once, they couldn't, because there aren't enough skulls!

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and & Incredibly Close, New York: Mariner Books, 2006, p. 3.

Poverty

I realize of course it's no shame to be poor. But it's no great honor either.

Fiddler on the Roof, "If I were a rich man"

Tevya, Fiddler on the Roof, "If I were a rich man"

Principle

Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others.

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

Resistance

The story of the Danish Jews is sui generis, and the behavior of the Danish people and their government was unique among all the countries of Europe—whether occupied, or a part of the Axis, or neutral and truly independent. One is tempted to recommend the story as required reading in political science for all students who wish to learn something about the enormous power potential inherent in non-violent action and in resistance to an opponent possessing vastly superior means of violence. [...] When the Germans approached [the Danes] rather cautiously about introducing the yellow badge, they were simply told that the King would be the first to wear it, and the Danish government officials were careful to point out that anti-Jewish measures of any sort would cause their own immediate resignation. [...] It is the only case we know of in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. They themselves apparently no longer looked upon the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course.

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, New York: Penguin Books, 1963, 1977, p. 171, 175.

Selfishness

I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Sleep

I haven't slept for ten days because that would be too long.

Mitch Hedberg

Mitch Hedberg

Specialness

Nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special.

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, p. 444.

Suicide

If you wanna cut yourself,
Remember that I love you.
And if you wanna kill yourself,
Remember that I love you.

Call me up before you're dead
We can make some plans instead.

Loose Lips, Kimya Dawson

Loose Lips, Kimya Dawson

Technology

What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use, or a cube-type holo scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me—into us—clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly. In Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s, New York, Penguin Books, 2008, ch. 11, p. 1019.

So what had so mortified her during Gus's presentation? She couldn't put her finger on it. Was it only the surprise of it? Was it the pinpoint accuracy of the algorithms? Maybe. But then again, it wasn't entirely accurate, so was that the problem? Having a matrix of preferences presented as your essence, as the whole you? Maybe that was it. It was some kind of mirror, but it was incomplete, distorted.

Dave Eggers, The Circle

Dave Eggers, The Circle, New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2013, p. 125.

Truculence

I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

Trust

In the States we have sugar bowls at home because we trust the people there. In restaurants you get your sugar in little paper packages, because the government knows better than to trust you. [...] America is full of crazy people who might put anything into a restaurant sugar bowl if they got a chance, and maybe you are one of them. Cocaine or sand or powdered bleach. Rat poison. Anything. It had always seemed to me that life in America was a whole lot better than life where I was then, but in some ways it has to be a lot worse because it drives so many people crazy with hate. I have gone on a lot about a crazy country, and while we were quiet and the cafe was emptying out and quieting down I wondered if my own country was not crazier.

Gene Wolfe, The Land Across

Gene Wolfe, The Land Across, Tor Books, 2014, p. 197.

Work

He gathered that he would not be free till five o'clock, and that on the following day he would come at ten and go at five, and the same every day, except Saturdays and Sundays, all the year round, with a ten days' holiday. The monotony of the prospect appalled him. He was not old enough to know what a narcotic is Habit, and that one can become attached to and interested in the most unpromising jobs.

P. G. Wodehouse, Psmith in the City

P. G. Wodehouse, Psmith in the City, Ch. 5, p. 29.

'Work,' said Psmith, with simple dignity. 'I am now a member of the staff of this bank. Its interests are my interests. Psmith, the individual, ceases to exist, and there springs into being Psmith, the cog in the wheel of the New Asiatic Bank; Psmith, the link in the bank's chain; Psmith, the Worker. I shall not spare myself,' he proceeded earnestly. 'I shall toil with all the accumulated energy of one who, up till now, has only known what work is like from hearsay.'

P. G. Wodehouse, Psmith in the City

P. G. Wodehouse, Psmith in the City, Ch. 5, p. 32.

Writing

The question of how authors come to write their books is generally one not easily answered. Milton, for instance, asked how he got the idea for Paradise Lost, would probably have replied with a vague “Oh, I don't know, you know. These things sort of pop into one's head, don't you know,” leaving the researcher very much where he was before.

P. G. Wodehouse, Cocktail Time

P. G. Wodehouse, Cocktail Time, New York: Penguin Books, ch. 1, p. 14.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin, National Book Awards Acceptance Speech, 2014 (link).