“The strongest guard is placed at the gateway to nothing. . . . Maybe because the condition of emptiness is too shameful to be divulged.”♦︎ F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
poets are useless,
. . .
are not only ‘non-utilitarian’,
we are ‘pathetic’:
this is the new heresy;
but if you do not even understand what words say,
how can you expect to pass judgement
on what words conceal?
♦ H.D., The Walls Do Not Fall
When anyone was witty about a contemporary event, she would look perplexed and a little dismayed, as if someone had done something that really should not have been done; therefore her attention had been narrowed down to listening for faux pas. She frequently talked about something being the ‘death of her,’ and certainly anything could have been had she been the first to suffer it. The words that fell from her mouth seemed to have been lent to her; had she been forced to invent a vocabulary for herself, it would have been a vocabulary of two words, ‘ah’ and ‘oh.’ Hovering, trembling, tip-toeing, she would unwind anecdote after anecdote in a light rapid lisping voice which one always expected to change, to drop and to become the ‘every day’ voice; but it never did. The stories were humorous, well told. She would smile, toss her hands up, widen her eyes; immediately everyone in the room had a certain feeling of something lost, sensing that there was one person who was missing the importance of the moment, who had not heard the story; the teller herself.
♦ Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
Sex, like being human, is contextual. Attempts to isolate it from its discursive, socially determined milieu are as doomed to failure as the philosophe‘s search for a truly wild child or the modern anthropologist’s efforts to filter out the cultural so as to leave a residue of essential humanity. And I would go further and add that the private, enclosed, stable body that seems to lie at the basis of modern notions of sexual difference is also the product of particular, historical, cultural moments. It too, like opposite sexes, comes into and out of focus.
♦ Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud
I do not present this view of history as one that is stable and must prevail. Whatever validity it may claim, it is certain, on its own premises, to be supplanted . . . However accurately we may determine the ‘facts’ of history, the facts themselves and our interpretations of them, and our interpretation of our own interpretations, will be seen in a different perspective . . . as mankind moves into the unknown future. Regarded historically, as a process of becoming, man and his world can obviously only be understood tentatively, since it is by definition something still in the making, something as yet unfinished.
♦ Carl Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian”
We must be aware of the dangers that lie in our most generous wishes. Some paradox of our nature leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.
♦ Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination
And the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.
♦ Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key
But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.
♦ Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook”
Marilyn Strathern . . . taught me that “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas (with).” Strathern is an ethnographer of thinking practices. She embodies for me the arts of feminist speculative fabulation in the scholarly mode. It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories. Strathern wrote about accepting the risk of relentless contingency; she thinks about anthropology as the knowledge practice that studies relations with relations, that puts relations at risk with other relations, from unexpected other worlds.
♦ Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble
In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and that the inner world of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy and the imagination. These roles, it seems to me, have been reversed. The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction – conversely, the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads. Freud’s classic distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream, between the apparent and the real, now needs to be applied to the external world of so-called reality.
♦ J. G. Ballard, 1995 Introduction to Crash