December 13, 2010

Orange, purple, pink

Whenever we notice an instance when history was swayed by accident, we also notice the latitude we have to shape the future.

December 11, 2010

We are living in a world that has an even lower level of reality than the unreal world

Perhaps the solution begins from softly accepting chaos not as something that “should not be there,” to be rejected fundamentally in principle, but as something that “is there in actual fact.”
Haruki Murakami, Reality A and Reality B

December 09, 2010

Inglorious blaze

"Everyone now has the chance to choose the part which he will play in the film of a hundred years hence," Goebbels told his staff at the propaganda Ministry on April 17 [1945], inspired by the Third Reich's last cinematic feat, Kolberg, and epic depiction of that town's last-ditch defence during the Napoleonic Wars. "I can assure you that it will be a fine and elevating picture...Hold out now, so that...the audience does not hoot and whistle when appear on the screen." Thus was the Third Reich to go down: in an inglorious blaze.
Niall Ferguson, The War of the World

December 07, 2010

Your job

You know your job. Work hard to quash other men and render them sterile. Dream enormous dreams and seek women. Many men do this. You do it with unique verve and efficacy. Now you're 61 and waiting in the dark for another married mother to call you. Isn't that pathetic? Aren't you ashamed? No, not really.

December 05, 2010

The lucky ones

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of the Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow

December 01, 2010

We went, and I won easily

The real secret behind top athletes’ genius, then, may be as esoteric and obvious and dull and profound as silence itself. The real, many-veiled answer to the question of just what goes through a great player’s mind as he stands at the center of hostile crowd-noise and lines up the free-throw that will decide the game might well be: nothing at all.

How can great athletes shut off the Iago-like voice of the self? How can they bypass the head and simply and superbly act? How, at the critical moment, can they invoke for themselves a cliché as trite as “One ball at a time” or “Gotta concentrate here,” and mean it, and then do it? Maybe it’s because, for top athletes, clichés present themselves not as trite but simply as true, or perhaps not even as declarative expressions with qualities like depth or triteness or falsehood or truth but as simple imperatives that are either useful or not and, if useful, to be invoked and obeyed and that’s all there is to it.

What if, when Tracy Austin writes that after her 1989 car crash, “I quickly accepted that there was nothing I could do about it,” the statement is not only true but exhaustively descriptive of the entire acceptance process she went through? Is someone stupid or shallow because she can say to herself that there’s nothing she can do about something bad and so she’d better accept it, and thereupon simply accept it with no more interior struggle? Or is that person maybe somehow natively wise and profound, enlightened in the childlike way some saints and monks are enlightened?

This is, for me, the real mystery—whether such a person is an idiot or a mystic or both and/or neither. The only certainty seems to be that such a person does not produce a very good prose memoir. That plain empirical fact may be the best way to explain how Tracy Austin’s actual history can be so compelling and important and her verbal account of that history not even alive. It may also, in starting to address the differences in communicability between thinking and doing and between doing and being, yield the key to why top athletes’ autobiographies are at once so seductive and so disappointing for us readers. As is so often SOP with the truth, there’s a cruel paradox involved. It may well be that we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only ones able truly to see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift we are denied. And that those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it—and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.

David Foster Wallace, "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart" in Consider the Lobster