"I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to re-enter and be riven… I admire the authority of being one’s knees in front of the event.
- Harold Brodkey, “Manipulations,” qtd. in Into Thin Air
“‘READ TO LEARN,’ the sign on the wall advised in December. I privately wondered: What was the connection between reading and learning? Did one learn something only by reading it? Was an idea only an idea if it could be written down?”
"What did I see in my books? I had the idea that they were crucial for my academic success, though I couldn’t have said exactly how or why. In the sixth grade I simply concluded that what gave a book its value was some major theme or idea it contained. It that core essence could be mined and memorized, I would become learned like my teachers. I decided to record in a notebook themes of the books that I read. After reading Robinson Crusoe, I wrote that its theme was ‘the value of learning to live by oneself.’ When I completed Wuthering Heights, I noted the danger of ‘letting emotions get out of control.’ Rereading these brief moralistic appraisals usually left me disheartened. I couldn’t believe that the were really the source of reading’s value…”
“Merely bookish, I [the scholarship boy] lacked a point of view when I read… [The scholarship boy] will not not let his critics forget their own change. He ends up too much like them. When he speaks, they hear themselves echoed.”
"A professional, I knew exactly how to search a book for pertinent information. I could quickly assess and summarize the usability of the many books I consulted. But whenever I started to write, I knew too much (and not enough) to be able to write anything but sentences that were overly cautious, timid, strained brittle under the heavy weight of footnotes and qualifications. I seemed unable to dare a passionate statement. I felt draw by professionalism to the edge of sterility, capable of no more than pedantic, lifeless, unassailable prose.”
- “The Achievement of Desire,” Richard Rodriguez
"My jaw throbbed. Rubbing it with my hand seemed to have no good or bad effect: the pain was deep and untouchable. Because the pain was genuinely unanticipated, there was no residue of anxiety to alter my experience of it. Anxiety and anticipation, I was to learn, are the essential ingredients in suffering from pain, as opposed to feeling pain pure and simple. This alien ache was probably my first and last experience unadulterated pain, which perplexed me more than it hurt me.”
- pg 16, Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face
How much suffering is in our head?
“Fiction…is much the same as dreaming with our eyes open.”
- Spinoza, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect
"Even the tools I used I felt belonged to them; words, for example: I wanted my own words. But the ones I use have dragged through I don’t know how many consciences; they arrange themselves in my head by virtue of the habits I have picked up from the others and it is not without repugnance that I use them in writing to you.”
- pg. 51, Jean-Paul Sartre, Intimacy
"He could not rely on a philosophical treatise to persuade people they did not exist. Action was needed, a really desperate act which would dissolve appearances and show the nothingness of the world in full light. A shot, a young body bleeding on the carpet, a few words scribbled on a piece of paper: ‘I kill myself because I do not exist. And you too, my brothers, you are nothingness!’ People would read the newspaper in the morning and would see ‘An adolescent has dared;’ And each would feel himself terribly troubled and would wonder, ‘And what about me? Do I exist?’”
- pg. 103
"He had believed that he existed by chance for a long time, but it was due to a lack of sufficient thought…’I exist,’ he thought, ‘because I have the right to exist.’”
- pg. 158
"Attention consists in suspending thought, leaving it available, empty and ready to be entered by its object…thought must be empty, waiting, seeking nothing, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object that is about to penetrate it"
- Simone Weil
The ideal essay:
"Excellent in every way (this is not the same as perfect). This is an ambitious, perceptive essay that grapples with interesting, complex ideas; responds discerningly to counter-arguments; and explores well-chosen evidence revealingly. The discussion enhances, rather than underscores, the reader’s and writer’s knowledge (it doesn’t simply repeat what has been taught). There is a context for all the ideas; someone outside the class would be enriched, not confused, by reading the essay. Its beginning opens up, rather than flatly announces, its thesis. Its end is something more than a summary. The language is clean, precise, often elegant. As a reader I feel surprised, delighted, changed. There’s something new here for me, something only the essay’s writer could have written and explored in this particular way. The writer’s sake in the material is obvious.”
- “A Grading Rubric,” Maxine Rodburg