For many years I have been keeping an index of quotations as I come across them in my random reading. I use the notebook and its topic index to record my own miscellaneous thoughts that don't fit into consecutive prose or conversation.
It’s abominable that a man, when he’s old or has old age in sight, should be nothing but a notebook sage. Seneca
The world seems already too old, and aging at such a rapid pace, for one to believe it is worthwhile trying to find something new in it. Enough now to make the effort to recover something from all that has been lost.
We do not count a man’s years until he has nothing else to count. Ralph Waldo Emerson
We have more than an hour to strut our stuff and, since none of us, generally speaking, wishes to die, we have no wish to see the play end. It is a drama, in any event, without a denouement. It ends, but, as with so many dramas, the end is simply that – a stopping of the action that must, I imagine, continue off-stage, off-camera, off the contrived set. There is no conclusion, only a point in time when, as at the end of King Lear, those directly affected by the unfolding of events can only pause to reflect on the future condition of their lives and when I, as spectator, have to leave the theatre and continue my own less eventful quotidian narrative in parallel time. At the end of The Portrait of a Lady the reader closes the novel without any reassurance as to whether Isobel Archer will accept Goodwood’s offer to be ‘firm as a rock’ or what she meant by her ‘very straight path’ and where that would lead her. Critics at the time simply believed James incapable of ending a book properly. But of course what he achieved was to leave the reader as uncertain of the drama’s resolution as the protagonist herself, whose history and character would determine what happened next, and not even the author had any prescient insight into what that would be.
Biography is the great lie. Biography is fiction, a conspiracy between the subject, the biographer and the reader to settle upon a set of illusions about a life. Even more so is that continuous inner narrative of one’s own personality that parades itself with alternating smiles and grimaces as it contends with its author, the unknown progenitor of this body, this organism, as it struggles to sustain the illusion of the coherence of experience when in reality all we are is what we have come to be at this moment. There can never come out of all this passing experience a sum that is the conclusion of all that has gone before, still less a summing up, unless one chooses, from moment to moment, to repeat the mantra of one’s own existential significance, such as ‘I am happy’, ‘I am a contented man and desire no more than I have’, ‘I am much admired by my contemporaries’ or ‘Without me such and such a thing could not have come about’. And then where shall he put up this monument to himself, and for what end? Only so that this one fact of a personal existence shall become one of a thousand passing fancies in the mind of another.
…a blind Beggar, who, with upright face,
Stood, propped against a wall, upon his chest
Wearing a written paper, to explain
His story, whence he came, and who he was. William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book Seven
First appearance of the word in 1760. The concept of ‘interesting’ occurred about the same time. The perpetuation of boredom dating from the beginning of industrial society? In the emergence of individualism? Or in romanticism, the shift in consciousness? But there were other prior words: tediousness, ennui…
Pliny believed that God has no interest in man. One can imagine a perpetual state of divine boredom, like watching the antics of participants in a reality TV show where after only a short while you want them all to fail miserably.
Ah, cher! one must live on a yacht to know what boredom is. André Gide, The Counterfeiters (The less wealthy might take a cruise).
Who would not rather be a child than a parent? The child learns, hopes, expects – the parent knows, instructs, judges.
you are just beginning
to learn the lessons
I have unlearned.
To get round the anxiety of time, one should remember that you are not the child of the past but the child of the present who has wandered into the future you had imagined and returned with gifts.
To know how cherries and strawberries taste, ask children and birds. Goethe, Conversations with Goethe
Every enemy of everything has always eaten children. Umberto Eco
I try to avoid conversations where I might be asked if I ‘believe in God.’ I hate all situations where the question assumes an either/or premise as something given, like ‘free will or determinism.’ God comes and goes depending on how you construct the universe in your head. We can look at three different ideas of the world and where God fits into each of them.
If we look at what we would call the ‘actual’ world, the empirical world of experience that presents itself to reason as representation (Schopenhauer) or phenomenon (Kant) – what everyone would defer to as the ‘real’ world – then empirically God does not exist. To make God exist in this world you have to draw on arguments that can’t be empirically supported, that belong to another order of ideas.
That second order (actually the first order of the universe, the second order being that represented to the mind empirically) is the infolded thing-in-itself, called by Kant the ‘noumenon’ to distinguish it from ‘phenomenon’ and by David Bohm, without any parallel understanding of Kantian principles, as the ‘implicate’ order of the universe. God may exist in this universe, but if he does he is nothing to us so might as well not exist, since by definition he is as unknowable as everything else in it.
But God undoubtedly exists to a mind that uses the material foundations of its existence merely as a stepping stone to what might be called the Augustinian world of mystery and faith, where the earthly constraints of existence are bonds to be broken because the world is entirely worthless unless we embrace a tertiary world of meaning by which our being in this world is justified.
But the question: ‘Does God exist?’ itself belongs to that mental order of being and existing that is unique to the consciousness of causality, where the hypothesis of existence and all questions about it reverberate in hollow cranial isolation.
God has nothing, absolutely nothing, conspicuous about Him and we do not notice He exists, although in fact his invisibility constitutes His omnipresence. But you say that an omnipresent person is one who may be seen everywhere – like a policeman… Kierkegaard
God is only a problem if you imagine God to be the beginning of everything and not something that, like the typewriter, the stirrup pump, stained glass windows and moral order, emerged eventually out of nothing.
Man needs the idea of God to rescue him from the idea of man.
The significance of Christianity lies in this: that in a single historical event God ceased to be the unknowable external originator of the universe and finally came into the world to be the eternal suffering subject through whom all values are mediated.
God, of course, has always been seen as partisan, on one side or another depending on who is most aggrieved. If God lived on earth and was accessible to man, he would soon find his windows broken.
That God created Us is one thing, for it was easy for Him. But for Us to have created God out of our imagination is another, one that has required the whole history of living and dying together.
It is no more possible to construct a moral order in which no one gets hurt than it is to believe in a divine order in which no one suffers.
Nothing will extirpate suffering, nothing will eliminate it. Our purpose is not to dry it up, but to create outlets for it. If the sense of man’s imperfection, of the meaninglessness of life, were to perish… we would be more stupid than birds, who at least perch on trees. Gustave Flaubert, Letter to Louise Colet, 1852