Category Archives: Potent Quotables

Potent Quotables

Upon the orchidean beauty of the new world the old rushed inevitably to revenge itself after the Italian’s return. Such things occur in secret. Though men may be possessed by beauty while they work that is all they know of it or of their own terrible hands; they do not fathom the forces which carry them. Spain cannot be blamed for the crassness of the discoverers. They moved out across the seas stirred by instincts, ancient beyond thought as the depths they were crossing, which they obeyed under the names of King or Christ or whatever it might be, while they watched the recreative New unfolding itself miraculously before them, before them, deafened and blinded. Steering beyond familiar horizons they were driven to seek perhaps self-justification for victorious wars against Arab or Moor; but these things are the surface only. At the back, as it remains, it was the evil of the whole world; it was the perennial disappointment which follows, like smoke, the bursting of ideas. It was the spirit of malice which underlies men’s lives and against which nothing offers resistance. And bitter as the thought may be that Tenochtitlan, the barbaric city, its people, its genius wherever found should have been crushed out because of the awkward names men give their emptiness, yet it was no man’s fault. It was the force of the pack whom the dead drive. Cortez was neither malicious, stupid nor blind, but a conqueror like other conquerors. Courageous almost beyond precedent, tactful, resourceful in misfortune, he was a man of genius superbly suited to his task. What his hand touched went down in spite of him. He was one among the rest.

William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain

Potent Quotables

George Dennis, however, though he too does not find much ‘art’ in Etruscan things, says of the Volterran ash-chests: ‘The touches of Nature on these Etruscan urns, so simply but eloquently expressed, must appeal to the sympathies of all—they are chords to which every heart must respond; and I envy not the man who can walk through this museum unmoved, without feeling a tear rise in his eye’

And recognizing ever and anon
The breeze of Nature stirring in his soul.

The breeze of Nature no longer shakes dewdrops from our eyes, at least so readily, but Dennis is more alive than Ducati to that which is alive. What men mean nowadays by ‘art’ it would be hard to say. Even Dennis said that the Etruscans never approached the pure, the sublime, the perfect beauty which Flaxman reached. Today, this makes us laugh: the Greekified illustrator of Pope’s Homer! But the same instinct lies at the back of our idea of ‘art’ still. Art is still to us something which has been well cooked—like a plate of spaghetti. An ear of wheat is not yet ‘art’. Wait, wait till it has been turned into pure, into perfect macaroni.

D. H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places

Potent Quotables

We noticed that in the jewelry stores they had some of the articles marked “gold” and some labeled “imitation.” We wondered at this extravagance of honesty and inquired into the matter. We were informed that inasmuch as most people are not able to tell false gold from the genuine article, the government compels jewelers to have their gold work assayed and stamped officially according to its fineness and their imitation work duly labeled with the sign of its falsity. They told us the jewelers would not dare to violate this law, and that whatever a stranger bought in one of their stores might be depended upon as being strictly what it was represented to be. Verily, a wonderful land is France!

-Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Potent Quotables

After the fighting—more particularly after the slanging-match in the newspapers—it was difficult to think about this war in quite the same naively idealistic manner as before. I suppose there is no one who spent more than a few weeks in Spain without being in some degree disillusioned. My mind went back to the newspaper correspondent whom I had met my first day in Barcelona, and who said to me: “This war is a racket the same as any other.” The remark had shocked me deeply, and at that time (December) I do not believe it was true; it was not true even now, in May; but it was becoming truer. The fact is that every war suffers a kind of progressive degradation with every month that it continues, because such things as individual liberty and a truthful press are simply not compatible with military efficiency.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Potent Quotables

“The functioning of sex-differentiated organs is involved, but there is nothing in this functioning that biologically recommends segregation; that arrangement is a totally cultural matter…toilet segregation is presented as a natural consequence of the difference between the sex-classes when in fact it is a means of honoring, if not producing, this difference.”

Erving Goffman, “The Arrangement between the Sexes”

Potent Quotables

…Unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen. The fact often adduced as a reason for scepticism—that the same horror stories come up in war after war—merely makes it rather more likely that these stories are true. Evidently they are widespread fantasies, and war provides the opportunity of putting them into practice.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Potent Quotables

He came at last to the saddest conclusion of them all for it went beyond the war in Vietnam. He had come to decide that the center of America might be insane. The country had been living with a controlled, even fiercely controlled, schizophrenia which had been deepening with the years. Perhaps the point had now been passed. Any man or woman who was devoutly Christian and worked for the American Corporation, had been caught in an unseen vise whose pressure could split their mind from their soul. For the center of Christianity was a mystery, a son of God, and the center of the corporation was a detestation of mystery, a worship of technology. Nothing was more intrinsically opposed to technology that the bleeding heart of Christ. The average American, striving to do his duty, drove further every day into working for Christ, and drove equally further each day in the opposite direction—into working for the absolute computer of the corporation. Yes and no, 1 and 0. Every day the average American drove himself further into schizophrenia; the average American believed in two opposites more profoundly apart than any previous schism in the Christian soul. Christians had been able to keep some kind of sanity for centuries while countenancing love against honour, desire versus duty, even charity opposed in the same heart the lust for power—that was difficult to balance but not impossible.  The love of the Mystery of Christ, however, and the love of no Mystery whatsoever, had brought the country to a state of suppressed schizophrenia so deep that the foul brutalities of the war in Vietnam were the only temporary cure possible for the condition—since the expression of brutality offers a definite if temporary relief to the schizophrenic. So the average good Christian American secretly loved the war in Vietnam. It opened his emotions. He felt compassionate for the hardships and the sufferings of the American boys in Vietnam, even the Vietnamese orphans. And his view of the war could shift a little daily as he read his paper, the war connected him to his newspaper again: connection to the outside world, and the small shift of opinions from day to say are the two nostrums of that apothecary where schizophrenia is teated. America needed the war. It would need a war so long as technology expanded on every road of communication, and the cities and corporations spread like cancer; the good Christian Americans needed the war or they would lost their Christ.

In his sleep did Mailer think of his favorite scheme, of a war which took place as a war game? of a tract of land in the Amazon, and three divisions of Marines against three divisions of the best Chinese Communists, and real bullets, and real airplanes, real television, real deaths? It was madness. He could not present the scheme in public without exercising the audience—they were certain he had discovered the mechanism of a new and gargantuan put-on, no one could take it seriously, not even as a substitute for Vietnam. no, the most insane of wars was more sane than the most insane of games. A pity. Before he had gone to sleep, he had talked for a while with one of the guards, a mournful middle-aged Southerner with a high forehead, big jaw, long inquiring nose, and the ubiquitous silver-rimmed spectacles. The guard had been upset by the sight of so many college boys romping in the dormitory, pleasant looking boys, obviously pleased with themselves. So the guard had asked tentative questions about the war in Vietnam and how they all felt, and why they felt as they did, and Mailer tried to answer him, and thought it was hopeless. You could use every argument, but it was useless, because the guard didn’t want to care. If he did, he would be at war against the cold majesty of the Corporation. The Corporation was what brought him his television and his security, the Corporation was what brought him the unspoken promise that on Judgment Day he would not be judged, for Judgment Day—so went the unspoken promise—was no worse than the empty spaces of the Tonight Show when you could not sleep.

Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night