other than the world that is

“You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture-makers enjoy making furnitures, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true at all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.”

(John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, p. 86.)

a kind of television with a keyboard

“We locked our­selves in her of­fice and sat at the com­puter, a kind of tele­vi­sion with a key­board, very dif­fer­ent from what she had showed me and the chil­dren some time be­fore. She pressed the power but­ton, she slid dark rec­tan­gles into gray blocks. I waited, be­wil­dered. On the screen lu­mi­nous tremors ap­peared. Lila began to type on the key­board, I was speech­less. It was in no way com­pa­ra­ble to a type­writer, even an elec­tric one. With her fin­ger­tips she ca­ressed gray keys, and the writ­ing ap­peared silently on the screen, green like newly sprouted grass. What was in her head, at­tached to who knows what cor­tex of the brain, seemed to pour out mirac­u­lously and fix it­self on the void of the screen. It was power that, al­though pass­ing for act, re­mained power, an elec­tro­chem­i­cal stim­u­lus that was in­stantly trans­formed into light. It seemed to me like the writ­ing of God as it must have been on Sinai at the time of the Com­mand­ments, im­pal­pa­ble and tremen­dous, but with a con­crete ef­fect of pu­rity. Mag­nif­i­cent, I said.”

(Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child, trans. Ann Goldstein, chapter 101, p. 289.)

and yet

“And yet as someone will say, did not Rome progress and advance thanks to war? This is a question which would require a long response for some people who reckon progress in terms of money, luxury, and in supremacy rather than in security, kindness, independence from others and justice towards others.”

(Plutarch’s life of Numa, seemingly rather freely quoted by Corrado Augias in The Secrets of Rome, p. 4, trans. A. Lawrence Jenkens.)

the man who lies asleep

“Up on your feet! This is no time to tire!”

my Master cried. “ The man who lies asleep

will never waken fame, and his desire

and all his life drift past him like a dream,

and the traces of his memory fade from time

like smoke in air, or ripples on a stream.

Now, therefore, rise. Control your breath, and call

upon the strength of soul that wins all battles

unless it sink in the gross body’s fall.

There is a longer ladder yet to climb:

this much is not enough. If you understand me,

show that you mean to profit from your time.”

(Dante, Inferno, canto XXIV, trans. John Ciardi.)

the writer & the reader

“A writer has to meet these dangers as he can and in the very process of writing, as he struggles to find out what it is that he truly has to say. I supposed it is unlikely that he will ever quite succeed. But his reader is in a luckier position, like Marlow’s hearers in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

Of course in this you fellows see more than I could see. You see me.

The reader sees what it intended to be said and also, from tone, from the unconscious emphases and the rest, he comes to know the man saying it.”

(Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life, pp. 7–8.)

preface

“It is only fair to warn the reader that not all the stories in this volume are intended to cause amusement. Of the ‘Nightmares,’ some are purely fantastic, while others represent possible, though not probable, horrors. ‘Zahatopolk’ is designed to be completely serious. The last story, ‘Faith and Mountains,’ may strike some readers as fantastic, but, if so, they must have led sheltered lives, as appears from the following:

‘Taking its cue from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England this year, the National Pickle Association started a search for an American girl with the name of Elizabeth Pickle to be ruler of Pickledom during 1953. —The Peanut Journal and Nut World.’ (Quoted from the Observer, June 28, 1953.)

I wish Elizabeth Pickle all success!

(Bertrand Russell, preface to Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories)

asking us silly questions and mispronouncing

“I was ten years back, on the north of Vancouver Island with my small son, not yet two years old; on the track of Franz Boas, I was, and one of his informants had just told me why they liked him—we liked Boas, she said—you know why? and told me something I could get from no book in the world. We liked him because he was on time for meals. I looked out to where my little son was sitting on a huge cedar log with two little Kwakiutl boys, twins, and my son was showing them his ‘old friend car’—a red metal car, the one toy he had brought. Perhaps it was battered and more silver than red, where the paint had worn; he had lost it that morning, and the twins had helped him find it in the long pale grass. The informant said to me, It is good that you brought your child with you; you know, none of these white scientists bring any family with them . . . no children, nothing; they just appear here, one white man, another white man, asking us silly questions and mispronouncing. You know what our chief amusement in the summer at Port Hardy is? Telling lies to white scientists.”

(Muriel Rukeyser, The Orgy, pp. 32–33.)

technology

“Discussion with Hanna—about technology (according to Hanna) as the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it. The technologist’s mania for putting the Creation to a use, because he can’t tolerate it as a partner, can’t do anything with it; technology as the knack of eliminating the world as resistance, for example, of diluting it by speed, so that we don’t have to experience. (I don’t know what Hanna means by this.) The technologist’s worldlessness. (I don’t know what Hanna means by this.) Hanna utters no reproaches. Hanna doesn’t find the way I behaved toward Sabeth incomprehensible; in Hanna’s opinion I experience a kind of relationship I was unfamiliar with and therefore misinterpreted, persuading myself I was in love. It was no chance mistake, but a mistake that is part of me (?), like my profession, like the rest of my life. My mistake lay in the fact that we technologists try to live without death. Her own words: ‘You don’t treat life as form, but as a mere sum arrived at by addition, hence you have no relationship to time, because you have no relationship to death.’ Life is form in time. Hanna admits that she can’t explain what she means. Life is not matter and cannot be mastered by technology. My mistake with Sabeth lay in repetition. I behaved as though age did not exist, and hence contrary to nature. We cannot do away with age by continuing to add up, by marrying our children.”

(Max Frisch, Homo Faber, trans. Michael Bullock, pp.178–9.)