the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for June, 2012

quotes: Sebald on time and memory

Posted by rigorousm on June 28, 2012

Even now, when I try to remember them… the darkness does not lift but becomes yet heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on. (24)

I have never owned a clock of any kind, a bedside alarm or a pocket watch, let alone a wristwatch. A clock has always struck me as something ridiculous, a thoroughly mendacious object, perhaps because I have always resisted the power of time out of some internal compulsion which I myself have never understood, keeping myself apart from so-called current events in the hope, as I now think, said Austerlitz, that time will not pass away, has not passed away, that I can turn back and go behind it, and there I shall find everything as it once was, or more precisely I shall find that all moments of time have coexisted simultaneously, in which case none of what history tells us would be true, past events that have not yet occurred but are waiting to do so at the moment when we think of them, although that, of course, opens up the bleak prospect of everlasting misery and neverending anguish. (101)

— Sebald, Austerlitz


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quotes: sebald on comfort and building

Posted by rigorousm on June 28, 2012

… unlike birds, for instance, who keep building the same nest over thousands of years, we tend to forge ahead with our projects far beyond any reasonable bounds. Someone, he added, ought to draw up a catalogue of types of buildings listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less than normal size– the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, the lockkeeper’s lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children’s bothy in the garden– are those that offer us at least a semblance of peace, whereas no one in his right mind could truthfully say that he liked a vast edifice such as the Palace of Justice on the old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder, a kind of wonder which in itself is a form of dawning horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.

— Sebald, Austerlitz, 18-19

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poetry: simic on museums

Posted by rigorousm on June 27, 2012

Says she’ll take him to the Museum
Of Dead Ideas and Emotions.
Wonders that he hasn’t been there yet.
Says it looks like a Federal courthouse
With its many steps and massive columns.

Apparently not many people go there
On such drizzly gray afternoons.
Says even she gets afraid
In the large empty exhibition halls
With monstrous ideas in glass cases,
Naked emotions on stone pedestals
In classically provocative poses.

Says she doesn’t understand why he claims
All that reminds him of a country fair.
Admits there’s a lot of old dust
And the daylight is the color of sepia,
Just like on this picture postcard
With its two lovers chastely embracing
Against a painted cardboard sunset.

— Charles Simic, “William and Cynthia”

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poetry: whitman on identity

Posted by rigorousm on June 26, 2012

ARE you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning—I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade—this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?
— Walt Whitman, “45. Are You the New Person, Drawn Toward Me?”

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quotes: pessoa on escape and being bored of oneself

Posted by rigorousm on June 19, 2012

It’s one of those days when the monotony of everything oppresses me like being thrown in jail. The monotony of everything is merely the monotony of myself, however. Each face, even if seen just yesterday, is different today, because today isn’t yesterday. Each day is the day it is, and there was never another one like it in the world. … The world is a set of distinct things with varied edges, but if we’re near-sighted, it’s a continual and indecipherable fog.

I feel like fleeing. Fleeing from what I know, fleeing from what’s mine, fleeing from what I love. I want to depart, not for impossible Indias or for the great islands south of everything, but for any place at all—village or wilderness—that this isn’t this place. I want to stop seeing these unchanging faces, this routine, these days. I want to rest, far removed, from my inveterate feigning. I want to feel sleep come to me as life, not as rest. A cabin on the seashore or even a cave in a rocky mountainside could give me this, but my will, unfortunately, cannot.

… I myself, having just said that I’d like a cabin or a cave where I could be free from the monotony of me—would I dare set out for this cabin or cave, knowing from experience that the monotony, since it stems from me, will always be with me? I myself, suffocating from where I am and because I am—where would I breathe easier, if the sickness is in my lungs rather than in the things that surround me? I myself, who long for pure sunlight and open country, for the ocean in plain view and the unbroken horizon—could I get used to my new bed, the food, not having to descend eight flights of stairs to the street, not entering the tobacco shop on the corner, not saying good-morning to the barber standing outside his shop?

Everything that surrounds us becomes part of us, infiltrating our physical sensations and our feeling of life, and like spittle of the great Spider it subtly binds us to whatever is close, tucking us into a soft bed of slow death which is rocked by the wind. Everything is us, and we are everything, but what good is this, if everything is nothing?

— Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, pp 148-149.

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quotes: pessoa on memory and the cigarette

Posted by rigorousm on June 19, 2012


Like someone who revisits a place where he lived in his youth, with a cheap cigarette I can return—heart and soul—to the time in my life when I used to smoke them. Through the mild flavour of the smoke, the whole of the past comes back to me.

… it’s cigarette smoke that most subtly, spiritually, reconstructs my past. Since it just barely grazes my awareness of taste, it evokes the moments to which I’ve died in a more general way, by a kind of displacement; it makes them more remotely present, more like mist when they envelop me, more ethereal when I embody them. A menthol cigarette or a cheap cigar wraps certain of my moments in a sweet softness. With what subtle plausibility—taste combined with smell—I recreate the dead stage settings and reinvest them with the colours of a past….

— Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet pp 331-332

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quotes: pessoa on the fictionalizing self

Posted by rigorousm on June 19, 2012


I’ve made myself into the character of a book, a life one reads. Whatever I feel is felt (against my will) so that I can write that  I felt it. Whatever I think is promptly put into words, mixed with images that undo it, cast into rhythms that are something else altogether. From so much self-revising, I’ve destroyed myself. From so much self-thinking, I’m now my thoughts and not I. I plumbed myself and dropped the plumb; I spend my life wondering if I’m deep or not, with no remaining pkumb except my gaze that shows me—blackly vivid in the mirror at the bottom of the well- my own faces that observing.

I’m like a playing card belonging to an old and unrecognizable suit—the sole survivor of a lost deck. I have no meaning, I don’t know my worth, there’s nothing I can compare myself with to discover what I am, and to make such a discovery would be of no use to anyone. And so, describing myself in image after image—not without truth, but with lies mixed in—I end up more in the images than in me, stating myself until I no longer exist, writing with my soul for ink, useful for nothing except writing. But the reaction ceases, and again I resign myself. I go back to whom I am, even if it’s nothing.

— Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, p 170

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quotes: Pessoa on hating summer

Posted by rigorousm on June 19, 2012


Before summer ends and autumn arrives, in the warm interim when the air weighs heavy and the colors dim, the late afternoons wear on the almost tangible robe of imitation glory. They’re comparable to those tricks of the imagination, when it makes nostalgia out of nothing, and they go on indefinitely, like the wakes of ships that form never-ending snakes.

These late afternoons fill me, like a sea at high tide, with a feeling worse than tedium but for which there’s no other name. it’s a feeling of desolation I’m unable to pinpoint, a shipwreck of my entire soul.  … And the physical universe is like a corpse I loved when it was life, but it has all dissolved to nothing in the still warm light of the last colored clouds.

My tedium takes on an air of horror, and my boredom is a fear. My sweat isn’t cold, but my awareness of it is. I’m not physically ill, but my soul’s anxiety is so intense that it passes through my pores and chills my body.

So great is this tedium, so sovereign my horror of being alive, that I can’t conceive of anything that might serve as a palliative, antidote, balsam or distraction for it. Sleeping horrifies me the way everything does. Dying is as horrifying as everything else. Going and stopping are the same impossible thing. Hope and doubt are equally cold and grey. I’m a shelf of empty jars.

I don’t know what I want or what I don’t want. I’ve stopped wanting, stopped knowing how to want, stopped knowing the emotions or thoughts by which people generally recognize that they want something or want to want it. I don’t know who I am or what I am. Like someone buried under a collapsed wall, I lie under the toppled vacuity of the entire universe. And so I go on, in the wake of myself, until the night sets in and a little of the comfort of being different wafts, like a breeze, over my incipient self-awareness.

— Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet p 184

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quotes: Pessoa on the intractability of individuality & love

Posted by rigorousm on June 19, 2012


We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our concept—our own selves—that we love.

This is true in the whole gamut of love. In sexual love we seek our own pleasure via another body. In non-sexual love, we seek our own pleasure via our own idea. The masturbator may be abject, but in point of fact he’s the perfect logical expression of the lover. He’s the only one who doesn’t feign and doesn’t fool himself.

The relations between one soul and another, expressed through such uncertain and variable things as shared words and proffered gestures, are deceptively complex. The very act of meeting each other is a non-meeting. Two people say ‘I love you’ or mutually think it and feel it, and each has in mind a different idea, a different life, perhaps even a different color or fragrance, in the abstract sum of impressions that constitute the soul’s activity.

— Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet p 112.

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quotes: vonnegut on the duty of poets

Posted by rigorousm on June 19, 2012

I asked a poet friend one time what it was that poets did, and he thought awhile, and then he told me, “They extend the language.” I thought that was neat, but it didn’t make me grateful in my bones for poets. Language extenders I can take or leave alone.

Anne Sexton does a deeper favor for me: she domesticates my terror, examines it and describes it, teaches it some tricks which will amuse me, then lets it gallop wild in my forest once more.

She does this for herself, too, I assume. Good for her.

— Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Preface to Transformations by Anne Sexton, vii

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