Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for the ‘Quote of the Day’ Category

Quote of the Day

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He wonders: will he become a regular person? Something has gone wrong; his vaccination didn’t take; at the Boy-Scout initiation campfire he only pretended to be deeply moved, as he pretends to this hour that it is not so bad after all in the funhouse, and that he has a little limp. How long will it last? He envisions a truly astonishing funhouse, incredibly complex yet ut­terly controlled from a great central switchboard like the console of a pipe organ. Nobody had enough imagination. He could design such a place him­self, wiring and all, and he’s only thirteen years old. He would be its operator: panel lights would show what was up in every cranny of its cunning of its multivarious vastness; a switch-flick would ease this fellow’s way, complicate that’s, to balance things out; if anyone seemed lost or frightened, all the operator had to do was.

He wishes he had never entered the funhouse. But he has. Then he wishes he were dead. But he’s not. Therefore he will construct funhouses for others and be their secret operator—though he would rather be among the lovers for whom funhouses are designed.

John Barth, “Lost in the Funhouse”

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December 31, 2018 at 7:30 am

Flash Gordon and the time machine

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I remember the day my father came home from the neighbors’ in 1949 and said they had a radio with talking pictures. It was his way of explaining television to us in terms of what he knew: radio. Several years later I would sit on the rug with half a dozen neighborhood kids at the house down the block, watching Flash Gordon and advertisements for Buster Brown shoes.

Such early space-travel films may have marked my first encounter with the idea of time machines, those phone booths with the capacity to transpose one into encounters with Napoleon or to propel one ahead into dilemmas on distant planets. I was six or seven years old and already leading a double life as an imagined horse disguised as a young girl…

Flash Gordon never became a horse by stepping into a time machine, but he could choose any one of countless masquerades at crucial moments in history or in the futures he hoped to outsmart. This whole idea of past or future being accessible at the push of a button seemed so natural to me as a child that I have been waiting for science to catch up to the idea ever since.

Tess Gallagher, “The Poem as Time Machine”

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December 30, 2018 at 7:30 am

The personality of style

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Style is the property of a poem that expresses the poet’s personality. Either his real personality or his invented personality; or, most likely, a combination of the two…Style consists of factors so minutely constituted and so obscurely combined that they simply are not separable and not measurable, except in the grossest ways. Yet we know a style when we see it, we recognize it and are attracted or repelled by it. One reason for this is the fact that style is a continuing element in a poet’s work, it remains consistently itself from one poem to another, even though the poems in other respects are notably dissimilar. We speak of the “growth” and “maturity” of a poet’s style in the same way that we speak of the growth and maturity of a person. This is an interesting fact; it may even sometimes be a crucial fact, as when we are attempting to explain the incidence of poetic genius. But it can also be a dangerous fact, for it leads to the state of mind in which style seems to be abstract from the poem, abstract from form itself.

Hayden Carruth, “The Question of Poetic Form”

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December 29, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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The trouble with most who would write poetry is that they are unwilling to throw their lives away.

Russell Edson, “Portrait of the Writer as a Fat Man”

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December 28, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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It was no thought or word that called culture into being, but a tool or a weapon. After the stone axe we needed song and story to remember innocence, to record effect—and so to describe the limits, to say what can be done without damage.

Wendell Berry, “Damage”

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December 27, 2018 at 7:30 am

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Poetry has content, public as well as private. It has content not available elsewhere. That is why no good poets are dumb.

Marvin Bell, “The Impure Every Time”

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December 26, 2018 at 7:30 am

The evensong

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Nativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans

It’s a long walk home tonight. Listen to this mock-angel singing, let your communion be at least in listening, even if they are not spokesmen for your exact hopes, your exact, darkest terror, listen. There must have been evensong here long before the news of Christ. Surely for as long as there have been nights bad as this one—something to raise the possibility of another light that could actually, with love and cockcrows, light the path home, banish the Adversary, destroy the boundaries between our lands, our bodies, our stories, all false, about who we are…

But on the way home tonight, you wish you’d picked him up, held him a bit. Just held him, very close to your heart, his cheek by the hollow of your shoulder, full of sleep. As if it were you who could, somehow, save him. For the moment not caring who you’re supposed to be registered as. For the moment anyway, no longer who the Caesars say you are.

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

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December 25, 2018 at 7:30 am

“It was an adventure…”

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Possibly the complex of circumstances which made the years 1950 to 1965 so decisive in the arts will not easily recur. No one can make it up, so to speak. But there were clearly years before, equally decisive, and there will no doubt be those now after. This clothesline is at best an invention of pseudohistory, and the arts do not intend to be history in this way, however much they use the traditions intimate to their practice. When [Robert] Duncan saw [Charles] Olson for the last time, in hospital a few days before his death, he said to him, “Important as history was to you, there are no followers—and as a matter of fact that isn’t what happened in poetry.” Olson grinned, and Duncan added, “It was an adventure…”

Robert Creeley, “On the Road”

Note: The ebook version of my group biography Astounding is currently on sale for $2.99. The price goes back up tomorrow, so if you’re interested in getting a copy, this would be a great time to grab it.

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December 24, 2018 at 7:30 am

The automated and flawless machine

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Our recent poetry is…a poetry in which the poem is considered to be a construction independent of the poet. It is imagined that when the poet says “I” in a poem he does not mean himself, but rather some other person—”the poet”—a dramatic hero. The poem is conceived as a clock which one sets going. The idea encourages the poet to construct automated and flawless machines. Such poems have thousands of intricately moving parts, dozens of iambic belts and pulleys, precision trippers that rhyme at the right moment, lights flashing alternately red and green, steam valves that whistle like birds. This is the admired poem…The great poets of this century have written their poems in exactly the opposite way.

Robert Bly, “A Wrong Turning in American Poetry”

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December 23, 2018 at 7:30 am

The unstructured source

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I would suggest you teach that poetry leads us to the unstructured sources of our beings, to the unknown, and returns us to our rational, structured selves refreshed. Having once experienced the mystery, plenitude, contradiction, and composure of a work of art, we afterwards have a built-in resistance to the slogans and propaganda of oversimplification that have often contributed to the destruction of human life. Poetry is a verbal means to a nonverbal source. It is a motion to no-motion, to the still point of contemplation and deep realization. Its knowledges are all negative and, therefore, more positive than any knowledge. Nothing that can be said about it in words is worth saying.

A.R. Ammons, “A Poem is a Walk”

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December 22, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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Where the pattern of human activity contains only one element, it is impossible for the architecture to achieve a convincing variety—convincing of the known facts of human variation. The designer may vary color, texture, and form until his drawing instruments buckle under the strain, proving once more that art is the one medium in which one cannot lie successfully.

Eugene Raskin, “On the Nature of Variety”

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December 20, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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My own experience is that, apart from the special habitat of intellectuals like Oxford or Cambridge, a city of a million is required to give me, say, the twenty or thirty congenial friends I require.

Philip Sargant Florence, quoted by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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December 19, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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I had often warned my students not to identify with their work. I told them, “If you want to achieve something, if you want to write a book, paint a picture, be sure that the center of your existence is somewhere else and that it’s solidly grounded; only then will you be able to keep your cool and laugh at the attacks that are bound to come.” I myself had followed this advice in the past, but now I was alone, sick with some unknown affliction; my private life was in a mess, and I was without a defense.

Paul Feyerabend, Killing Time

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December 18, 2018 at 7:30 am

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Educations are divided into splendid educations, thorough classical educations, and average educations. All very old men have splendid educations; all men who apparently know nothing else have thorough classical educations; nobody has an average education.

Stephen Leacock, Literary Lapses

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December 17, 2018 at 7:30 am

The man on the table

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The myth of the new scientific or technological man presents to us the image of the man in the white coat; the man who embodies the gnosis achieved by the new methods of inquiry. This man thus in modest actuality but also—and here is the first element of the mythical—in infinite potentiality knows the secrets of things, what their effective structures are, and therefore how they work…But if the man in the white coat is free to control, and as intentionally motivated by creative and moral purposes, as the mythical image proclaims—and otherwise there is little hope in the image—then the man on the table, the object of the inquiry of the same scientist, must also be in part free. Thus man as a free being, the object of inquiry, must in part be incomprehensible in terms of objective and universal laws, and even creative outside the bounds of those laws, and consequently potentially destructive of them as well. Any freedom in the object under control reduces inevitably the freedom of the controller to work his will. As Tillich was wisely wont to remark, man can always look back at his controller—and, we lesser mortals might add, cheat on an objective test.

Langdon Gilkey, Religion and the Scientific Future

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December 16, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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December 14, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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It is all too easy to make some plausible simplifying assumptions, do some elaborate mathematics that appear to give a rough fit with at least some experimental data, and think one has achieved something. The chance of such an approach doing anything useful, apart from soothing the theorist’s ego, is rather small.

Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit

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December 13, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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Anthropology, abstractly conceived as the study of man, is actually the study of men in crisis by men in crisis. Anthropologists and their objects, the studied, despite opposing positions in the “scientific” equation have this much in common: if not equally, still they are each objects of contemporary imperial civilization. The anthropologist who treats the indigene as an object may define himself as relatively free, but that is an illusion…For the anthropologist is himself a victim, and his power of decision is a fiction.

Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive

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December 12, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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My education, I thought, had failed to create [feelings of human sympathy] in sufficient strength to resist the dissolving influence of analysis, while the whole course of my intellectual cultivation had made precocious and premature analysis the inveterate habit of my mind. I was thus, as I said to myself, left stranded at the commencement of my voyage, with a well-equipped ship and a rudder, but no sail; without any real desire for the ends which I had been so carefully fitted out to work for: no delight in virtue, or the general good, but also just as little in anything else.

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography

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December 11, 2018 at 7:30 am

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Quote of the Day

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The way you people make movies is you start with character and build outward. I start with construction and then fill it in.

Brian De Palma, in the documentary De Palma

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December 10, 2018 at 7:30 am

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