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18th April 2014

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Only earth and sky matter

Dangerous and indifferent ground: against its fixed mass the tragedies of people count for nothing although the signs of misadventure are everywhere. No past slaughter nor cruelty, no accident nor murder that occurs on the little ranches or at the isolate crossroads with their bare populations of three or seventeen, or in the reckless trailer courts of mining towns delays the flood of morning light. Fences, cattle, roads, refineries, mines, gravel pits, traffic lights, graffiti’d celebration of athletic victory on bridge overpass, crust of blood on the Wal-Mart loading dock, the sun-faded wreaths of plastic flowers marking death on the highway are ephemeral. Other cultures have camped here a while and disappeared. Only earth and sky matter. Only the endlessly repeated flood of morning light. You begin to see that God does not owe us much beyond that.

Annie Proulx, ‘People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water’, from Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999)

Tagged: bookswritingliteraturelandlandscapeWyomingAmericaAmerican literatureshort storiesAnnie Proulx

17th April 2014


Serious faults in style are rarely, if ever, matters of ‘mere’ style; they embody real difficulties in conception.
— Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

Tagged: writingbooksRichard Hofstadterwriting style

12th April 2014

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The brutes and the vegetables

If you put God outside and set him vis-à-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and the vegetables.

If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your chances of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or simply, of over population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.

If I am right, the whole of our thinking about what we are and what other people are has got to be restructured. This is not funny, and I do not know how long we have to do it in.

Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972

Tagged: booksecologynaturesurvivalfuturismphilosophyGregory Batesonenvironment

11th April 2014

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Sacks full of words

Down here everyone arrives with a sack, like the sacks used to keep the wind in, but each of these sacks is full of words — words you’ve spoken, words you’ve heard, words that have been said about you. Some sacks are very small, others large; my own is of a reasonable size, though a lot of the words in it concern my eminent husband.

Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

Tagged: bookswordsmythsmythologyunderworldOdysseyMargaret Atwood

10th April 2014


What is that fire?

There are no bunks but bare planks, all the way to the ceiling. Here nothing has been prettied up. With me was a woman friend of mine, Giuliana Tedeschi, a survivor of Birkenau. She pointed out to me that on every plank, 1.8 by 2 meters, up to nine women slept.  She showed me that from the tiny window you could see the ruins of the cremation furnace. In her day, you could see the flames issuing from the chimney. She had asked the older women: “What is that fire?” And they had replied: “It is we who are burning.”

Primo Levi, The Reawakening

Tagged: bookshistoryBirkenauHolocaustPrimo LeviEurope

6th April 2014

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In politics obedience and support are the same.
— Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Tagged: politicsbooksphilosophyobediencepolitical philosophyHannah Arendt

3rd April 2014


There exist many things considerably worse than death, and the S.S. saw to it that none of them was ever very far from their victims’ minds and imagination.
— Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Tagged: bookshistorydeathEuropewarHolocaust

1st April 2014

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Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Tagged: bookslovepsychologyJames Baldwin

30th March 2014

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Life is tragic simply because the earth turns

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death — ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

Tagged: bookswritinglifedeathreligionphilosophymysteryJames Baldwin

24th March 2014

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The working class made itself

The making of the working class is a fact of political and cultural, as much as of economic, history. It was not the spontaneous generation of the factory-system. Nor should we think of an external force — the “industrial revolution” — working upon some nondescript undifferentiated raw material of humanity, and turning it out at the other end as a “fresh race of beings”. The changing productive relations and working conditions of the Industrial Revolution were imposed, not upon raw material, but upon the free-born Englishman — and the freeborn Englishman as Paine had left him or as the Methodists had moulded him. The factory hand or stockinger was also the inheritor of Bunyan, of remembered village rights, of notions of equality before the law, of craft traditions. He was the object of massive religious indoctrination and the creator of new political traditions. The working class made itself as much as it was made.

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1963)

Tagged: historyeconomicssociologybookssocial historyindustrial revolutionworking classclassEnglandBritish history