The Quiet American

Death was the only absolute value in my world. Lose life and one would lose nothing again forever… Death was far more certain than God, and with death there would be no longer the daily possibility of love dying. The nightmare of a future of boredom and indifference would lift. I could never have been a pacifist. To kill a man was surely to grant him an immeasurable benefit. Oh yes, people always, everywhere, loved their enemies. It was their friends they preserved for pain and vacuity

Graham Greene, The Quiet American [1955].

Martin Eden

Martin Eden Jack LondonThe vistas he saw were vistas of green foliage and forest glades, all softly luminous or shot through with flashing lights. In the distance, detail was veiled and blurred by a purple haze, but behind this purple haze, he knew, was the glamour of the unknown, the lure of romance. It was like wine to him. Here was adventure, something to do with head and hand, a world to conquer-and straightaway from the back of consciousness rushed the thought: conquering, to win to her, that lily-pale spirit sitting beside him”

Jack London, Martin Eden [1909: 52].

Mark Twain

Autobiography of Mark TwainWhat a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is lead in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, (which are but the mute articulation of his feelings,) not those other things are his history. His acts and his words are merely the visible thin crust of his world, with its scattered snow summits and its vacant wastes of water-and they are so trifling a part of his bulk! a mere skin enveloping it. The mass of him is hidden-it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written” [Mark Twain, 1907, The Autobiography of Mark Twain]. 

The Great Stories

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably…They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in…You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t…[in them] you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic” (Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, 1997: 229). 

Oscar & Lucinda

Oscar & Lucinda“There was, she thought, so much to be said in favour of a game of cards. One was not compelled to pretend, could be silent without being dull, could frown without people being overtly solicitous about one’s happiness, could triumph over a man and not have to giggle and simper when one did it. One could kill time, obliterate loneliness, have a friendship with strangers one would never see again and live on that sweet, oiled cycle of anticipation, the expectation that something delicious was about to happen” (Peter Carey, 1988: 227).

Death in Venice

venice pictureNothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim. Between them there exists a disquiet, a strained curiosity, the hysteria of an unsatisfied, unnaturally repressed need for recognition and exchange of thoughts – and also, especially, a sort of nervous respect. For one person loves and honours another only as long as he is unable to assess him, and yearning is a result of a lack of knowledge” (Thomas Mann, Death in Venice [1912:41]).

Leave Her To Heaven

Leave Her to Heaven Book Cover“White he watched her, exotic words drifted across the mirror of his mind as summer clouds drift across the sky…He thought of myrrh and frankincense and potpourri – or was it patchouli? and of nameless mysterious fragrances; of sloes, and of clusters of purple grapes, each richly full of blood-red juices which spilled when you crushed them between your teeth(1944: 22, Williams) (Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams was published 74 years ago today).

The Ladder of Knowledge

In man, various faculties of knowledge – sensory perception, the imagination, reason and deep insight – correspond to the tiered arrangement of the macrocosm. The last rung is the direct comprehension of the divine word in meditation. The ladder extends no further, because God himself cannot be comprehended” (R. Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi, Vol. II, Oppenheim, 1619).