The Antidote to Nihilism?

When we return to our breathing, we return to the present moment, our true home. There’s no need for us to struggle to arrive somewhere else. We know our final destination is the cemetery. Why are we in a hurry to get there? Why not step in the direction of life, which is in the present moment?

- How to Walk, Thich Nhat Hanh

The Word Wardrobe

Does there exist a single dreamer of words who does not respond to the word wardrobe? And to fine words correspond fine things, to grave-sounding words, an entity of depth. Every poet of furniture -even if he be a poet in a garret, and therefore has no furniture- knows that the inner space of an old wardrobe is deep. A wardrobe’s inner space is also intimate space, space that is not open to just anybody.

The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

The Storm is You

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step. There's no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That's the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine ...

... And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You'll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about.”

- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

A Witness to Magnitude

Poetry is a witnessing to magnitude. It is the art of making urgent values manifest, and of imposing them on the reader. It is the housing of these values in poems so they will exist with maximum pressure, and for the longest time. It is the craft of doing so in structures that are a delight in themselves. And it is the mystery of fashioning poems in such a way that the form and the content are one.

- Jack Gilbert, The Landscape of American Poetry, 1965

Pessoa's Aesthetics of Artifice

Sometimes, I don't even recognize me, so external to myself have I become, and so entirely artistically have I deployed my consciousness of myself. Who am I behind this unreality? I don't know. I must be someone. And if I do not seek to live, to act or to feel, it is -believe me- so as not to disturb the already laid down lines of my false persona. I want to be exactly what I want to be and am not. If I were to live I would destroy myself. I wanted to be a work of art, at least as regards my soul, since physically that's impossible. That is why I sculpted myself calmly and indifferently and placed myself in a hothouse, far from draughts and direct light - where the exotic flower of my artificiality can bloom in secluded beauty. 

- The Book of Disquiet, Fernando Pessoa

Donna Tartt: Freedom to Shut the Door

"Was it Emerson who talked about the great freedom of American life as the freedom not to participate in the life of the culture, the freedom to shut the door, to close the curtains? American heroes are almost always solitary figures in our literature.

Joan Didion writes a beautiful essay about Howard Hughes who was a lonely recluse but also a kind of weird American hero who built the whole city of Las Vegas and Joan Didion said, 'he's the last private man, the dream we no longer admit'."

- Interview with Donna Tartt

Ray Bradbury's Writing Exercise

I tell people, make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.

- Ray Bradbury, The Paris Review

Hyperconsciousness and Walking Away

Do you know the writer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? He’s a Hungarian psychologist who writes about the state of flow. If you’re in a creative state, then essentially things sort of coagulate and you enter a state of hyper­consciousness—you can write for an hour or so, but it only seems like a few minutes because you’re so concentrated on it. I’ve experienced that a lot, which doesn’t mean there’s no frustration, but I don’t really remember the frustration very well. I remember more when the writing comes together. And I’m willing to seek out that coming together. If I get frustrated, I’ll go eat something, I’ll go open another Diet Coke, I’ll go to the barn, I’ll distract myself, and then the parts in my brain that were working click and I get an idea. I read an article about how to learn to play a musical instrument. You practice, practice, practice on Friday, then you walk away. And then when you sit down on Saturday, you’re better. Not only because of all the practice, but also because of the walking away. I’m a firm believer in walking away. 

- from The Paris Review interview with Jane Smiley

The Hand That Obeys the Intellect

The greatest artist does not have any concept which a single piece of marble does not itself contain within its excess, though only a hand that obeys the intellect can discover it.

- Michelangelo

Not once in describing the shape of that mass did I shift my eye from the model. Why? Because I wanted to make sure that nothing evaded my grasp of it. Not a thought about the technical problem of representing it on paper could be allowed to arrest the flow of my feelings about it, from my eye to my hand ... my object is to test to what extent my hands already feel what my eyes see. 

- Rodin

Liminal Space

You told me Leonora Carrington was an expert in liminal space. What's liminal space? I'd asked you. Ha, you'd said. It's kind of in-between. A place we get transported to. Like when you look at a piece of art or listen to a piece of music and realize that for a while you've actually been somewhere else because you did? I'd said. Or liminal like limbo? 

- Artful, Ali Smith

Art: raison d'être

Art shows people their raison d'être. It reveals the meaning of life to them, and it enlightens them on their destiny and so guides them through existence. 

- Rodin, Rodin & Eros

Katherine Mansfield on DH Lawrence

There are certain thins in this book I do not like. But they are not important, or really part of it. They are trivial, encrusted, they cling to it as snails to the underside of a leaf -no more,- and perhaps they leave a little silvery trail, a smear, that one shrinks from as from a kind of silliness. But apart from these things is the leaf, is the tree, firmly planted, deeply thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig. All the time I read this book I felt it was feeding me. 

- Artful. Ali Smith

Graham Greene on War and Peace

When I finished it, I felt, What's the use of ever writing again - since this has been done. The book was like some great tree, always in movement, always renewing itself. (It didn't stop him writing though). 

- Artful, Ali Smith

Thousands of Little Wounds

The thing about trees is that they know what to do. When a leaf loses its color, it;s not because its time is up and it's dying, it's because the tree is taking back into itself the nutrients the leaf's been holding in reserve for it, out thee on the twig, and why leaves change color in autumn is because the tree is preparing for winter, it's filling itself with its own stored health so it can withstand the season. Then, clever tree, it literally pushes the used leaf offset the growth that's coming behind it. But because that growth has to protect itself through winter too, the tree fills the little wound in its branch or twig where the leafs was with a protective corky stuff that seals it against cold and bacteria. Otherwise, every leaf lost would be an open wound on a tree and a single tree would be covered in thousands of little wounds. 

- Artful, Ali Smith

Van Gogh's Vibration of Time

Time goes whorling through landscapes and human lives bent on its agenda, endlessly making an end of things. You have seen this vibration of time in van Gogh, moving inside color energy. It moves in circles (not lines) that expand with a kind of biological inevitability.

- Anne Carson, Plainwater

 

 

Never Enough

I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.

- Anne Carson, Plainwater, Essays and Poetry