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Epigraph Chosen by Bohumil Hrabal

Not only may one imagine that what is higher derives always and only from what is lower; one may imagine that—given the polarity and, more important, the ludicrousness of the world—everything derives from its opposite: day from night, frailty from strength, deformity from beauty, fortune from misfortune. Victory is made up exclusively of beatings.

—Ladislav Klíma

Torment as a Symptom of Superiority

“My own idea is that when He comes again it will be to continue his ministry as an old man. I am an old man and my life has been spent as a soldier of Christ, and I tell you that the older I grow the less Christ’s teaching says to me. I am sometimes very conscious that I am following the path of a leader who died when He was less than half as old as I am now. I see and feel things He never saw or felt. I know things He seems never to have known. Everybody wants a Christ for himself and those who think like him. Very well, am I at fault for wanting a Christ who will show me how to be an old man? All Christ’s teaching is put forward with the dogmatism, the certainty, and the strength of youth: I need something that takes account of the accretion of experience, the sense of paradox and ambiguity that comes with years! I think after forty we should recognize Christ politely but turn for our comfort and guidance to God the Father, who knows the good and evil of life, and to the Holy Ghost, who possesses a wisdom beyond that of the incarnated Christ. After all, we worship a Trinity, of which Christ is but one Person. I think when He comes again it will be to declare the unity of the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit. And then perhaps we shall make some sense of this life of marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces. Who can tell?—we might even make it bearable for everybody.”

“You are still young enough to think that torment of the spirit is a splendid thing, a sign of a superior nature. But you are no longer a young man; you are a youngish middle-aged man, and it is time you found out that these spiritual athletics do not lead to wisdom. Forgive yourself for being a human creature, Ramezay. That is the beginning of wisdom; that is part of what is meant by the fear of God; and for you it is the only way to save your sanity. Begin now, or you will end up with your saint in the madhouse.” Saying which, Padre Blazon spread his handkerchief over his face and went to sleep, leaving me to think.

—Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

Superfluous in Nature

Levin had often noticed in arguments between the most intelligent people that after enormous efforts, an enormous number of logical subtleties and words, the arguers would finally come to the awareness that what they had spent so long struggling to prove to each other had been known to them long, long before, from the beginning of the argument, but that they loved different things and therefore did not want to name what they loved, so as not to be challenged. He had often felt that sometimes during an argument you would understand what your opponent loves, and suddenly come to love the same thing yourself, and agree all at once, and then all reasonings would fall away as superfluous; and sometimes it was the other way round: you would finally say what you yourself love, for the sake of which you are inventing your reasonings, and if you happened to say it well and sincerely, the opponent would suddenly agree and stop arguing. That was the very thing he wanted to say.

—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The Abstruse Language of Vaticinations

The poor herbalist could not know that with these suspicions, even though later disproved, he was confirming Firefly’s prediction when he heard the dispatch from the observatory and interpreted it as announcing an invasion of bats. Not even the seer himself understands his words – and I say this from my own experience. No science is capable of ordering the abstruse language of vaticinations.


Venturing in from the yard, up to the wrought-iron window, and then into the room itself in small wary leaps, looking all ways at once, a tomeguin finch came to peck at the fruit.

—Severo Sarduy, Firefly

A Puff of the Power of Knowing

But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth And Lie In A Nonmoral Sense

Common Processes

Strictly speaking, nothing may be claimed as a natural birthright, since—to digress for a moment—every birthright is a fiction, something we dreamed after straying from a factual world into one fabricated by our heads. For those keeping track, the only rights we have are these: to seek the survival of our individual bodies, to create more bodies like our own, and to know that everyone’s body will perish through a process of corruption or mortal trauma. (This is presuming that one has been brought to term and has survived to a certain age, neither being a natural birthright. Rigorously considered, our only natural birthright is to die.) No other rights have been allocated to us except, to repeat with emphasis, as fabrications. The divine right of kings may now be acknowledged as such a fabrication—a falsified permit for prideful dementia and arbitrary mayhem. The unalienable rights of certain people, however, seemingly remain current: whether observed or violated, somehow we believe they are not fabrications because an old document says they are real. Miserly or munificent as a given right may appear, it denotes no more than the right of way warranted by a traffic light, which does not mean you have the right to drive free of vehicular mishaps. Ask any paramedic.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

Consciousness in Degrees of Enfoldment and Unfoldment in All Matter

Looked at another way, the ability of consciousness to shift from one entire reality to another suggests that the usually inviolate rule that fire burns human flesh may only be one program in the cosmic computer, but a program that has been repeated so often it has become one of nature’s habits. As has been mentioned, according to the holographic idea, matter is also a kind of habit and is constantly born anew out of the implicate, just as the shape of a fountain is created anew out of the constant flow of water that gives it form. Peat humorously refers to the repetitious nature of this process as one of the universe’s neuroses. “When you have a neurosis you tend to repeat the same pattern in your life, or do the same action, as if there’s a memory built up and the thing is stuck with that,” he says. “I tend to think things like chairs and tables are like that also. They’re a sort of material neurosis, a repetition. But there is something subtler going on, a constant enfolding and unfolding. In this sense chairs and tables are just habits in this flux, but the flux is the reality, even if we tend only to see the habit.

—Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe

His Gigantic Shadow Thrown on a Cloud

The ring was lifted from below and jerked off the hook. Barbarossa’s ring lay at their feet. “Long live Italy!” shouted Andrea. throwing his hat into the air. Nobody said a word. Andrea picked up the ring, handed it to the magistrate and said: “Keep this ring in memory of me and this day, on which you did me a wrong.” He seized Gertrude’s hand and kissed it; climbed up the mountain and disappeared; was seen again and vanished in a cloud. After a while he reappeared, high above them; but this time it was merely his gigantic shadow thrown on a cloud. And there he stood, shaking a threatening fist at the village. “That was Satan himself,” said the colonel. “No, it was an Italian,” said the postmaster.


“What we have heard on this commemoration day seems to prove that the deeds of our forefathers have been engulfed in the ocean of time. One thing swims on the surface, another sinks to the bottom. Here we are sitting like the shadows of our former selves, and to you, who are alive, we must remain shadows. … Put out the lights!”

—August Strindberg, In Midsummer Days And Other Tales

In a Strange, Distorted Relation to the World

The witty woman, Madame, chooses for her carnival costume one which ingeniously reveals something in her spirit or heart which the conventions of her everyday life conceal; and when she puts on the hideous long-nosed Venetian mask, she tells us, not only that she has a classic nose behind it, but that she has much more, and may well be adored for things other than her mere beauty. So speaketh the Arbiter of the masquerade: ‘By thy mask I shall know thee.’


“There are traditions still,” he went on, “from le Grand Monarque and le Grand Siècle. But no human being with a feeling for greatness can possibly believe that the God who created the stars, the sea, and the desert, the poet Homer and the giraffe, is the same God who is now making, and upholding, the King of Belgium, the Poetical School of Schwaben, and the moral ideas of our day. We two may at last speak about it. We are serving Louis Philippe, a human God, much as the King of France is a bourgeois King.”

—Isak Dinesen, “The Deluge at Norderney”

Responsive Reconfiguration

Soon people will not be able to watch films like Theo Angelopoulos’s Ulysses’ Gaze or to read Henry James because they will not have the concentration to get from one interminable scene or sentence to the next. The time when I might have been able to read late-period Henry James has passed and because I have not read late-period Henry James I am in no position to say what harm has been done to my sensibility by not having done so. But I do know that if I had not seen Stalker in my early twenties my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished. As for Ulysses’ Gaze, in spite of the fact that it starred an implausible Harvey Keitel, it was another nail in the coffin of European art cinema (a coffin, cynics would say, made up almost entirely of nails), opening the floodgates to everything that was not art because anything seemed preferable to having to sit through a film like that, especially since the whole thing could be boiled down, anyway, to a single still photograph—a statue of Lenin gliding along the Danube on a barge, a petrified Pharaoh floating down the Nile of history—by Josef Koudelka.


Writer comes scurrying back like a whupped dog, demanding to know who told him to stop. Stalker? No. Professor? Not him either. It’s your own fear, Professor tells him. You’re too frightened to go on so you invent a voice telling you to stop. That sounds about right, but the thing about the Zone is that it’s always subtly reconfiguring itself according to your thoughts and expectations. You want it to seem ordinary? It’s ordinary—or is it? And at that moment something occurs to make you think maybe it’s not ordinary, whereupon it does something briefly extraordinary. (Or does it?) Whereupon it becomes quite ordinary again. The Zone manifests itself even as it withholds itself—and vice versa.

—Geoff Dyer, Zona