Category Archives: Books

On self-respect

In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a king of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues….

Nonetheless, character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions – is the source from which self-respect springs.

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)

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On self-esteem

…for there are still in you a thousand lovely qualities which your self-esteem alone can preserve, and which too much shame, with the abjection it would cause, would unfailingly destroy, and it is by what you believe you are still worth that you will indeed maintain worthiness.

– Claire to Julie in Rousseau, Julie, ou la Nouvelle Heloise

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Of typewriters and masking tape

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Goethe’s third tendency

Our wishes are presentiments of capabilities that lie within us, harbingers of what we shall be able to accomplish.  The things we can and would like to do are presented to us by our imagination as being beyond us and in the future; and we feel a longing for something already latent in us.  Thus our passionate reaching out in advance transforms a true possibility into an imaginary reality.  If a particular tendency is definitely in our nature, then a part of our early wish will be fulfilled at every step of our development, in a straight line if circumstances are favorable, and if they are unfavorable, then in a roundabout way from which we constantly turn back to the right one.  So people are seen attaining to earthly goods through their perseverance; they surround themselves with riches, magnificence, and outward honor.  Even more surely, others strive for spiritual advantages; they acquire a clear overview of things, peace of mind, and security for the present and future.

However, there is also a third tendency, which as a mixture of the other two must be the one surest of success.  If, that is to say, a person’s youth coincides with a pregnant epoch, one in which productivity predominates over destruction, and his presentiments about the demands and promises of such a time awaken early, then, urged on by outward incentives to participate actively, he will reach out in all directions, and the wish will stir in him to be effective in a variety of endeavors.  Now, in addition to his human limitations, so many incidental hindrances will arise that either a project begun does not progress, or something grasped falls out of his hand, and one wish after the other disintegrates.  However, if his wishes have issued from a pure heart and meet the requirements of the time, then he may calmly let things lie as they fall, right and left, in full confidence that they will not only be discovered and picked up again, but that many related matters, not touched on or even thought of, will also come to light.  If, during the course of our life, we see others accomplish what we ourselves earlier felt it was our calling to do, but had to abandon along with much else, then we get the beautiful feeling that mankind in combination is the only true human being, and that the individual can be glad and happy only when he has the courage to feel himself part of the whole.

Goethe, From My Life:  Poetry and Truth, Book 9

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Kicking it


March 5 [1838].  But what does all this scribbling amount to?  What is now scribbled in the heat of the moment one can contemplate with somewhat of satisfaction, but alas! to-morrow — aye, to-day — it is stale, flat and unprofitable — in fine, is not, only its shell remains, like some red parboiled lobster-shell which, kicked aside never so often, still stares at you in the path.

Thoreau, Gleanings

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“on the matter of Washington language”

In a CIA review of various attempts between 1960 and 1963 to assassinate Fidel Castro…an internal report prepared in 1967 by the Inspector General of the CIA and declassified in 1978 for release to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, there appears, on the matter of Washington language, this instructive reflection:

… There is a third point, which was not directly made by any of those we interviewed, but which emerges clearly from the interviews and from reviews of files.  The point is that of frequent resort to synecdoche – the mention of a part when the whole is to be understood, or vice versa.  Thus, we encounter repeated references to phrases such as “disposing of Castro,” which may be read in the narrow, literal sense of assassinating him, when it is intended that it be read in the broader, figurative sense of dislodging the Castro regime.  Reversing the coin, we find people speaking vaguely of “doing something about Castro” when it is clear that what they have specifically in mind is killing him.  In a situation wherein those speaking may not have actually meant what they seemed to say or may not have said what they actually meant, they should not be surprised if their oral shorthand is interpreted differently than was intended.

Joan Didion, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live, 472-3

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A recipe for durable sentences

It is the fault of some excellent writers – De Quincey’s first impressions on seeing London suggest it to me – that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail.  They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness….they say all they mean.  Their sentences are not concentrated and nutty.  Sentences which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old, but make a new, impression; sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as a Roman aqueduct; to frame these, that is the art of writing.  Sentences which are expensive, towards which so many volumes, so much life, went; which lie like boulders on the page, up and down or across; which contain the seed of other sentences, not mere repetition but creation.  If De Quincey had suggested each of his pages in a sentence and passed on, it would have been far more excellent writing.

Thoreau recorded this entry in his journal on August 22, 1851.


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