Tag Archives: quotations

The Guy Quote – Alan Watts

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Alan Watts was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker. Best known for making Eastern philosophy digestible to Western minds, his radio broadcasts, books and talks turned people on to new ways of thinking. He introduced the youth culture to The Way of Zen, he put forward the idea that Buddhism could be seen as a form of psychotherapy rather than a religion, he engaged with and explored ideas of human consciousness as well as man’s relationship with nature…to me at least he embodies the world-thinker, astride cultures, taking what is relevant or useful and leaving the dogma. He died in 1973 at the age of 58, at his cabin on Mount Tamalpais. Recently though, people have been setting extracts from his lectures to animations and montages, uploading them to YouTube where his words are enjoying a renaissance.

He was bright, exploring various types of meditation as a teen – he even met D.T. Suzuki – and then moved to America in 1938, just before war broke out. He became an Anglican priest, his thesis at the seminary attempting to blend contemporary Christian worship, mystical Christianity and Asian philosophy. Leaving the ministry after an affair, he went back to academics, teaching at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, and bouncing around various other places in following years as he toured the lecture circuit, travelled in Europe, had a TV show and wrote more books.

He expanded his studies into cybernetics, Vedanta and more; experimented with psychedelics in the early 1960s; and for several years was a Fellow at Harvard. He was enjoyed by intellectuals, but had a harder time with academics. Perhaps because – as Watts said himself – he was more “philosophical entertainer” than academic philosopher.

The excellent Wikipedia entry on him, which includes tonnes of links as well as the following:

Watts did not hide his dislike for religious outlooks that he decided were dour, guilt-ridden, or militantly proselytising — no matter if they were found within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism….he has been criticised by Buddhists such as Philip Kapleau and D. T. Suzuki for allegedly misinterpreting several key Zen Buddhist concepts. In particular, he drew criticism from those who believe that zazen can only be achieved by a strict and specific means of sitting, as opposed to a cultivated state of mind available at any moment in any situation. In his talks, Watts addressed the issue of defining zazen practice when he said, “A cat sits until it is tired of sitting, then gets up, stretches, and walks away.” [he also said about experimenting with drugs: "if you get the message, hang up the phone".]

Though known for his Zen teachings, he was equally if not more influenced by ancient Hindu scriptures, especially Vedanta, and spoke extensively about the nature of the divine Reality Man that Man misses, how the contradiction of opposites is the method of life and the means of cosmic and human evolution, how our fundamental Ignorance is rooted in the exclusive nature of mind and ego, how to come in touch with the Field of Consciousness and Light, and other cosmic principles. His books frequently include discussions reflecting his keen interest in patterns that occur in nature and which are repeated in various ways and at a wide range of scales – including the patterns to be discerned in the history of civilizations.

And so on with the quotes…

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“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”

“Playing a violin is, after all, only scraping a cat’s entrails with horsehair.”

“You will never get to the irreducible definition of anything because you will never be able to explain why you want to explain, and so on. The system will gobble itself up.”

“We therefore work, not for the work’s sake, but for money—and money is supposed to get us what we really want in our hours of leisure and play. In the United States even poor people have lots of money compared with the wretched and skinny millions of India, Africa, and China, while our middle and upper classes (or should we say “income groups”) are as prosperous as princes. Yet, by and large, they have but slight taste for pleasure. Money alone cannot buy pleasure, though it can help. For enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy.”

“What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.”

“Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression or boredom by calling them names is to resort to superstition of trust in curses and invocations. It is so easy to see why this does not work. Obviously, we try to know, name, and define fear in order to make it “objective,” that is, separate from “I.”

“I owe my solitude to other people.”

“Like too much alcohol, self-consciousness makes us see ourselves double, and we make the double image for two selves – mental and material, controlling and controlled, reflective and spontaneous. Thus instead of suffering we suffer about suffering, and suffer about suffering about suffering.”

“To put is still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”

“The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.”

“Naturally, for a person who finds his identity in something other than his full organism is less than half a man. He is cut off from complete participation in nature. Instead of being a body, he ‘has’ a body. Instead of living and loving he ‘has’ instincts for survival and copulation.”

“Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.”

“If we cling to belief in God, we cannot likewise have faith, since faith is not clinging but letting go.”

“Jesus was not the man he was as a result of making Jesus Christ his personal saviour.”

“And people get all fouled up because they want the world to have meaning as if it were words… As if you had a meaning, as if you were a mere word, as if you were something that could be looked up in a dictionary. You are meaning.”

“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

“Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know.”

“Zen is a liberation from time. For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without any concrete reality.”

“Hospitals should be arranged in such a way as to make being sick an interesting experience. One learns a great deal sometimes from being sick. ”

“A priest once quoted to me the Roman saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh at each other across the altar. I always laugh at the altar, be it Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, because real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter.”

“It is interesting that Hindus, when they speak of the creation of the universe do not call it the work of God, they call it the play of God, the Vishnu lila, lila meaning play. And they look upon the whole manifestation of all the universes as a play, as a sport, as a kind of dance — lila perhaps being somewhat related to our word lilt”

“What we have forgotten is that thoughts and words are conventions, and that it is fatal to take conventions too seriously. A convention is a social convenience, as, for example, money … but it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth … In somewhat the same way, thoughts, ideas and words are “coins” for real things.”

“I am what happens between the maternity ward and the Crematorium”

“A successful college president once complained to me, I’m so busy that I’m going to have to get a helicopter! Well, I answered, you’ll be ahead so long as you’re the only president who has one. But don’t get it. Everyone will expect more out of you.”

“The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”

“The world is filled with love-play, from animal lust to sublime compassion.”

“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”

“Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.”

“For unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax. There is no point whatever in making plans for a future which you will never be able to enjoy. When your plans mature, you will still be living for some other future beyond. You will never, never be able to sit back with full contentment and say, “Now, I’ve arrived!” Your entire education has deprived you of this capacity because it was preparing you for the future, instead of showing you how to be alive now.”

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

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“It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as –Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so– I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it. ”

[[ps – please check out some of my other quote collections here – The Guy Quote]]

The preface to “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

–Oscar Wilde

The Guy Quote – Carl Jung

Founder of analytical psychiatry, Jung was the first to view the human psyche as “by nature religious”. He is also famous for his research into dream analysis. As well as his own clinic, he also explored Eastern and Western philosophy, alchemy, astrology and sociology, as well as literature and the arts. Many psychological concepts were first proposed by the Swiss-born doctor, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and synchronicity. He collaborated – and then had a massive falling out – with Freud (more here, and pictures of the two of them hanging about in the slideshow below come from here) and was fascinated by Nietzche. While doing all of that, he also studied masonry, to balance out his thinking. All in all an amazing guy.

One of my favourite things about him is that, for someone who is such a star in a field often pigeonholed as the very definition of sober analysis and the pursuit of the rational, he was fascinated by mysticism (and saw spirits as a child, as well as having shaman-y leanings) and had a crazy episode in his late 30s which inspired him to write The Red Book. When he and Freud had a massive barney, Jung found the end of their father-son relationship so traumatic he had prophetic(?) dreams about a mighty flood washing over Europe – this just before the First World War broke out.

It would do too great a disservice to him to attempt to summarise his core beliefs myself – and I’d be way out of my depth – but use this page and this one to find out more and get to other links (this page is fun too). In the mean time… enjoy The Guy Quotes.

ps – if you like this sort of thing, I’ve done other similar posts which you can find listed here.

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Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.

(on being 36 yrs old) The time is a critical one, for it marks the beginning of the second half of life, when a metanoia, a mental transformation, not infrequently occurs.

An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

Midlife is the time to let go of an overdominant ego and to contemplate the deeper significance of human existence.

Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.

Image is psyche.

One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games.

I have never since entirely freed myself of the impression that this life is a segment of existence which is enacted in a three-dimensional boxlike universe especially set up for it.

The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ — all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself — that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness — that I myself am the enemy who must be loved — what then? As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.

We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.

Astrology is assured of recognition from psychology, without further restrictions, because astrology represents the summation of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity.

A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.

Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble.

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.

Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.

If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.

I have treated many hundreds of patients. Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook.

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

There’s no coming to consciousness without pain.

In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.

Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.

The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.

I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself. I am distressed, depressed, rapturous. I am all these things at once, and cannot add up the sum. I am incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness; I have no judgment about myself and my life. There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite convictions – not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have been carried along. I exist on the foundation or something I do not know.

Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.

I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success of money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.

Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purpose through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is “man” in a higher sense— he is “collective man”— one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic forms of mankind.

It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.

Deep down, below the surface of the average man’s conscience, he hears a voice whispering, “There is something not right,” no matter how much his rightness is supported by public opinion or moral code.

If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.

The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.

It all depends on how we look at things, and not on how things are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

Words are animals, alive with a will of their own.

The true leader is always led.

Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.

Sensation tell us a thing is.
Thinking tell us what it is this thing is.
Feeling tells us what this thing is to us.

The personality is seldom, in the beginning, what it will be later on. For this reason the possibility of enlarging it exists, at least during the first half of life. The enlargement may be affected through an accretion from without, by new vital contents finding their way into the personality from outside and being assimilated. In this way a considerable increase in personality may be experienced. We therefore tend to assume that this increase comes only from without, thus justifying the prejudice that one becomes a personality by stuffing into oneself as much as possible from outside. But the more assiduously we follow this recipe, and the more stubbornly we believe that all increase has to come from without, the greater becomes our inner poverty. Therefore, if some great idea takes hold of us from outside, we must understand that it takes hold of us only because something in us responds to it and goes out to meet it. Richness of mind consists in mental receptivity, not in the accumulation of possessions. What comes to us from outside, and, for that matter, everything that rises up from within, can only be made our own if we are capable of an inner amplitude equal to that of the incoming content. Real increase of personality means consciousness of an enlargement that flows from inner sources. Without psychic depth we can never be adequately related to the magnitude of our object. It has therefore been said quite truly that a man grows with the greatness of his task. But he must have within himself the capacity to grow; otherwise even the most difficult task is of no benefit to him. More likely he will be shattered by it.

The Guy Quote – Christopher Hitchens (RIP)

Woke to the sad news that Christopher Hitchens has passed away. Since his diagnosis with oesophageal cancer he wrote fearlessly and frankly about what he faced. But never, ever forget that before he “passed into the land of malady” (and also after) he was a fabulous polemicist and one of the leading voices of secularism. So as well as the quotes I suggest you read a tribute to him by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, for whom he wrote for many years. Do take time to discover the rest of his career though, because you should be defined by how you live, not what kills you, and if you don’t happen to agree with what he says, he’ll at least make you think. There’s an excellent obituary from The Guardian here and a full profile on Wikipedia – get stuck in.

“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic,” Hitchens wrote nearly a year ago in Vanity Fair, but his own final labors were anything but: in the last 12 months, he produced for this magazine a piece on U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, a portrait of Joan Didion, an essay on the Private Eyeretrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a prediction about the future of democracy in Egypt, a meditation on the legacy of progressivism in Wisconsin, and a series of frankgraceful, and exquisitely written essays in which he chronicled the physical and spiritual effects of his disease. At the end, Hitchens was more engaged, relentless, hilarious, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else—just as he had been for the last four decades.

“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,” he wrote in the June 2011 issue. He died in their presence, too, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. May his 62 years of living, well, so livingly console the many of us who will miss him dearly. (VanityFair.com)

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“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

“[O]wners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”

“Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.”

“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

“The governor of Texas, who, when asked if the Bible should also be taught in Spanish, replied that ‘if English was good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me.”

“What do you most value in your friends? Their continued existence.”

“To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”

“What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”

“Organised religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”

“Nothing optional–from homosexuality to adultery–is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate. As Shakespeare put it in ‘King Lear’, the policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offense for which he plies the lash.”

“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”

“Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model.”

“You should be nicer to him,’ a schoolmate had once said to me of some awfully ill-favoured boy. ‘He has no friends.’ This, I realised with a pang of pity that I can still remember, was only true as long as everybody agreed to it.”

“She’s got no charisma of any kind [but] I can imagine her being mildly useful to a low-rank porn director.”

“Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of ‘the flock.”

“Your least favorite virtue, or nominee for the most overrated one? Faith. Closely followed—in view of the overall shortage of time—by patience.”

“Your favorite virtue? An appreciation for irony.”

“How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”

“There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb. But in general I feel better, and no less radical, and you will feel better too, I guarantee, once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.”

“What is your idea of earthly happiness? To be vindicated in my own lifetime.”

“The finest fury is the most controlled.”

“Cheap booze is a false economy.”

“The search for Nirvana, like the search for Utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous one. It involves, if it does not necessitate, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from anxiety and struggle.”

“My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can’t prove it, but you can’t disprove it either.”

“How is the United States at once the most conservative and commercial AND the most revolutionary society on Earth?”

“As the cleansing ocean closes over bin Laden’s carcass, may the earth lie lightly on the countless graves of those he sentenced without compunction to be burned alive or dismembered in the street.”

“Where would you like to live? In a state of conflict or a conflicted state.”

“I have not been able to discover whether there exists a precise French equivalent for the common Anglo-American expression ‘killing time.’ It’s a very crass and breezy expression, when you ponder it for a moment, considering that time, after all, is killing us.”

“Your ideal authors ought to pull you from the foundering of your previous existence, not smilingly guide you into a friendly and peaceable harbor.”

“How ya doin’?’ I always think, What kind of a question is that?, and I always reply, ‘A bit early to tell.”

“There either is a god or there is not; there is a ‘design’ or not.”

“Forget it. Never explain; never apologise. You can either write posthumously or you can’t.”

“Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”

“There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.”

“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.”

“A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can’t make old friends.”

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? (Just to give you an idea, Proust’s reply was ‘To be separated from Mama.’) I think that the lowest depth of misery ought to be distinguished from the highest pitch of anguish. In the lower depths come enforced idleness, sexual boredom, and/or impotence. At the highest pitch, the death of a friend or even the fear of the death of a child.”

“In a Pyongyang restaurant, don’t ever ask for a doggie bag.”

“My little ankle-strap sandals curled with embarrassment for her.”

“And now behold what this pious old trout hath wrought.”

“The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.”

“Part of the function of memory is to forget; the omni-retentive mind will break down and produce at best an idiot savant who can recite a telephone book, and at worst a person to whom every grudge and slight is as yesterday’s.”

What word or expression do you most overuse? Re-reading a collection of my stuff, I was rather startled to find that it was ‘perhaps.”

“I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator – that’s beyond my conceit.”

“So this is where all the vapid talk about the ‘soul’ of the universe is actually headed. Once the hard-won principles of reason and science have been discredited, the world will not pass into the hands of credulous herbivores who keep crystals by their sides and swoon over the poems of Khalil Gibran. The ‘vacuum’ will be invaded instead by determined fundamentalists of every stripe who already know the truth by means of revelation and who actually seek real and serious power in the here and now. One thinks of the painstaking, cloud-dispelling labor of British scientists from Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestley to Charles Darwin to Ernest Rutherford to Alan Turing and Francis Crick, much of it built upon the shoulders of Galileo and Copernicus, only to see it casually slandered by a moral and intellectual weakling from the usurping House of Hanover. An awful embarrassment awaits the British if they do not declare for a republic based on verifiable laws and principles, both political and scientific.”

==

Add-ons:

“Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner, rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed on by some Apache transvestite”.

The Guy Quote – Kurt Vonnegut

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

Blending satire, gallows humour and science fiction, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the twentieth century’s great pacifists. You’ll understand why when you know about his time in WWII as soldier and prisoner of war.

He was captured in 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge, where he was an an infantry private. His regiment got cut off from the rest of the army. As he said: “The other American divisions on our flanks managed to pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren’t much good against tanks…”

Imprisoned in Dresden, Vonnegut was chosen as a leader of the POWs because he spoke some German. After telling the German guards “…just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came…” he was beaten and had his position as leader taken away. While a prisoner, he witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden in February 1945 which destroyed most of the city.

Vonnegut was one of a group of American prisoners of war to survive the attack in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker used by the Germans as an ad hoc detention facility. The Germans called the building Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five), which the Allied POWs adopted as the name for their prison. Vonnegut said the aftermath of the attack was “utter destruction” and “carnage unfathomable.” This experience was the inspiration for his famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a central theme in at least six of his other books.

In Slaughterhouse-Five he recalls that the remains of the city resembled the surface of the moon, and that the Germans put the surviving POWs to work, breaking into basements and bomb shelters to gather bodies for mass burial, while German civilians cursed and threw rocks at them. Vonnegut eventually remarked, “There were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Germans sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes.”

Vonnegut was liberated by Red Army troops in May 1945 at the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border. Upon returning to America, he was awarded a Purple Heart for what he called a “ludicrously negligible wound,” later writing that he was given the decoration after suffering a case of “frostbite”.

When he got home, he jobbed around as a writer whilst studying for an anthropology degree. Then carried on writing his own stories on the side. In the mid 1950s, he worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse that had jumped a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at the blank piece of paper on his typewriter all morning, he typed, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” and left.

He was on the verge of giving up writing when his novel, Cat’s Cradle, became a bestseller, and he started Slaughterhouse Five – one of the most important American books of the 20th century.

*

A word on “so it goes”. The amazing thing about “so it goes”, the repeated refrain from Slaughterhouse Five, isn’t so much its plainness as the way it can pack so much emotion — and dismissal of emotion — into three simple, world-weary words. It neatly encompasses a whole way of life. More crudely put: “Shit happens, and it’s awful, but it’s also okay. We deal with it because we have to.” Damn right.

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armour and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.

Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.

If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.

Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile!

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.

Human beings will be happier – not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia.

I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.

About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm.

All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.
From “Cat’s Cradle

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
From “Cold Turkey

Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
From “Cold Turkey

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.
From “Cold Turkey

Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
From “A Man without a Country

Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.
From “A Man without a Country

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’
A Man without a Country

I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.
From “A Man without a Country

1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.
From “Breakfast of Champions

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.
From “Breakfast of Champions

The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were.
From “Breakfast of Champions

Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.
From “Breakfast of Champions

I can have oodles of charm when I want to.
From “Breakfast of Champions

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.
From “Cat’s Cradle

Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
From “Cat’s Cradle

Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’ Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand.
From “Cat’s Cradle

Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
From “Cold Turkey

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.
From “God Bless You Mr Rosewater

Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
From “Hocus Pocus

During my three years in Vietnam, I certainly heard plenty of last words by dying American footsoldiers. Not one of them, however, had illusions that he had somehow accomplished something worthwhile in the process of making the Supreme Sacrifice.
From “Hocus Pocus

Well, the telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful.
From an interview on Mcsweeneys.net

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
From “Mother Night

There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too.
From “Mother Night

Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.
From “Hocus Pocus

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
From “Sirens of Titan

Since Alice had never received any religious instruction, and since she had led a blameless life, she never thought of her awful luck as being anything but accidents in a very busy place. Good for her.
From “Slapstick

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

How nice–to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’
From “Timequake” (his last novel)

All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.
From “Timequake

EDIT: An excellent late addition, spotted by Charlie:
“Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.”

(thanks for the idea to do Kurt, Adam – good shout!)
+

[[ps – please check out some of my other quote collections here – The Guy Quote]]

The poet quote

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
(from ‘Auguries of Desire‘)

There’s a good biography in Wikipedia, but here’s the short story: Born in 1757, William worked in his father’s hosiery shop until his talent for drawing became so obvious that he was apprenticed to an engraver at 14.

He worked on his first book, Songs of Innocence, with his wife Catherine. Blake engraved the words and pictures on copper plates (a method he claimed he received in a dream), while she coloured the plates and bound the books. It sold slowly during his lifetime. Songs of Experience (1794) was followed by Milton (1804-1808), and Jerusalem (1804-1820). He poured his whole being into his work. The lack of public recognition sent him into a severe depression which lasted from 1810-1817, and even his best friends thought he’d gone nuts.

Blake worked on a small scale. Most of his engravings are little more than inches in height, yet the detailed rendering is superb and exact. His work received far more public acclaim after his death. He died on August 12, 1827, and is buried in an unmarked grave at Bunhill Fields, London. Utterly unique, incredibly creative, a true original. Possibly the greatest artist our shores have ever produced.

A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.

Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.

Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.

Energy is an eternal delight, and he who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.

Every harlot was a virgin once.

Fun I love, but too much fun is of all things the most loathsome. Mirth is better than fun, and happiness is better than mirth.

What is a wife and what is a harlot? What is a church and what is a theatre? are they two and not one? Can they exist separate? Are not religion and politics the same thing? Brotherhood is religion. O demonstrations of reason dividing families in cruelty and pride!

I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.