Sunday, 6 May 2018

Ali Smith : winter

Alasdair gray: lanark

"You suffer from the oldest delusion in politics. You think you can change the world by talking to a leader. Leaders are the effects, not the causes of changes."

“People in Scotland have a queer idea of the arts. They think you can be an artist in your spare time, though nobody expects you to be a spare-time dustman, engineer, lawyer or brain surgeon.”

“But I do enjoy words—some words for their own sake! Words like river, and dawn, and daylight, and time. These words seem much richer than our experiences of the things they represent—”

He looked at them and saw their faces did not fit. The skin on the skulls crawled and twitched like half-solid paste. All the heads in his angle of vision seemed irregular lumps, like potatoes but without a potato’s repose: potatoes with crawling surfaces punctured by holes which opened and shut, holes blocked with coloured jelly or fringed with bone stumps, elastic holes through which air was sucked or squirted, holes secreting salt, wax, spittle and snot. He grasped a pencil in his trouser pocket, wishing it were a knife he could thrust through his cheek and use to carve his face down to the clean bone. But that was foolish. Nothing clean lay under the face. He thought of sectioned brains, palettes, eyeballs and ears seen in medical diagrams and butcher’s shops. He thought of elastic muscle, pulsing tubes, gland sacks full of lukewarm fluid, the layers of cellular and fibrous and granular tissues inside a head. What was felt as tastes, caresses, dreams and thoughts could be seen as a cleverly articulated mass of garbage.

“War is just a violent way of doing what half the people do calmly in peacetime: using the other half for food, heat, machinery and sexual pleasure. Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation.”

“I distrust speech therapy. Words are the language of lies and evasions. Music cannot lie. Music talks to the heart.”


Sunday, 29 April 2018

Carlo Rovelli: Seven Brief Lessons On Physics

We are made of the same stardust of which all things are made, and when we are immersed in suffering or when we are experiencing intense joy we are being nothing other than what we can’t help but be: a part of our world.

In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don't get anywhere by not 'wasting' time- something, unfortunately, that the parents of teenagers tend frequently to forget.

We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our individual mortality. I fear that soon we shall also have to become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise, or at least the demise of its civilization.

We are all born from the same celestial seed; all of us have the same father, from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain, producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts, offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life and generate offspring.

When we talk about the big bang or the fabric of space, what we are doing is not a continuation of the free and fantastic stories that humans have told nightly around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years. It is the continuation of something else: of the gaze of those same men in the first light of day looking at tracks left by antelope in the dust of the savannah - scrutinising and deducting from the details of reality in order to pursue something that we can't see directly but can follow the traces of. In the awareness that we can always be wrong, and therefore ready at any moment to change direction if a new track appears; but knowing also that if we are good enough we will get it right and will find what we are seeking. That is the nature of science.

Our memory and our consciousness are built on these statistical phenomena. For a hypothetically supersensible being there would be no ‘flowing’ of time: the universe would be a single block of past, present and future. But due to the limitations of our consciousness we only perceive a blurred vision of the world, and live in time. Borrowing words from my Italian editor, ‘what’s non-apparent is much vaster than what’s apparent’. From this limited, blurred focus we get our perception of the passage of time. Is that clear? No, it isn’t. There is so much still to be understood.

Illusion or not, what explains the fact that for us time ‘runs’, ‘flows’, ‘passes’? The passage of time is obvious to us all: our thoughts and our speech exist in time; the very structure of our language requires time – a thing ‘is’ or ‘was’ or ‘will be’. It is possible to imagine a world without colours, without matter, even without space, but it’s difficult to imagine one without time. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger emphasized our ‘dwelling in time’. Is it possible that the flow of time which Heidegger treats as primal is absent from descriptions of the world?

I believe that our species will not last long. It does not seem to be made of the stuff that has allowed the turtle, for example, to continue to exist more or less unchanged for hundreds of millions of years; for hundreds of times longer, that is, than we have even been in existence. We belong to a short-lived genus of species. All of our cousins are already extinct. What’s more, we do damage. The brutal climate and environmental changes which we have triggered are unlikely to spare us. For the Earth they may turn out to be a small irrelevant blip, but I do not think that we will outlast them unscathed – especially since public and political opinion prefers to ignore the dangers which we are running, hiding our heads in the sand. We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our individual mortality. I fear that soon we shall also have to become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise, or at least the demise of its civilization.

As we know more or less well how to deal with our individual mortality, so we will deal with the collapse of our civilization. It is not so different. And it’s certainly not the first time that this will have happened. The Maya and Cretans, amongst many others, have already experienced this. We are born and die as the stars are born and die, both individually and collectively. This is our reality. Life is precious to us because it is ephemeral. And as Lucretius wrote: ‘our appetite for life is voracious, our thirst for life insatiable’ (De rerum natura, III, 1084). But immersed in this nature which made us and which directs us, we are not homeless beings suspended between two worlds, parts of but only partly belonging to nature, with a longing for something else. No: we are home.

Zadie Smith: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

Nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone, to make a connection with a consciousness other than my own.

It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself. This is hard to do alone.

Other people’s words are so important. And then without warning they stop being important, along with all those words of yours that their words prompted you to write. Much of the excitement of a new novel lies in the repudiation of the one written before. Other people’s words are the bridge you use to cross from where you were to wherever you’re going.

Some writers are the kind of solo violinists who need complete silence to tune their instruments. Others want to hear every member of the orchestra—they’ll take a cue from a clarinet, from an oboe, even. I am one of those. My writing desk is covered in open novels. I read lines to swim in a certain sensibility, to strike a particular note, to encourage rigour when I’m too sentimental, to bring verbal ease when I’m syntactically uptight. I think of reading like a balanced diet; if your sentences are baggy, too baroque, cut back on fatty Foster Wallace, say, and pick up Kafka, as roughage. If your aesthetic has become so refined it is stopping you from placing a single black mark on white paper, stop worrying so much about what Nabokov would say; pick up Dostoyevsky, patron saint of substance over style.

Maybe every author needs to keep faith with Nabokov, and every reader with Barthes. For how can you write, believing in Barthes? Still, I’m glad I’m not the reader I was in college anymore, and I’ll tell you why: it made me feel lonely. Back then I wanted to tear down the icon of the author and abolish, too, the idea of a privileged reader—the text was to be a free, wild thing, open to everyone, belonging to no one, refusing an ultimate meaning. Which was a powerful feeling, but also rather isolating, because it jettisons the very idea of communication, of any possible genuine link between the person who writes and the person who reads. Nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone, to make a connection with a consciousness other than my own. To this end I find myself placing a cautious faith in the difficult partnership between reader and writer, that discrete struggle to reveal an individual’s experience of the world through the unstable medium of language. Not a refusal of meaning, then, but a quest for it.

Much of the excitement of a new novel lies in the repudiation of the one written before.

The middle of a novel is a state of mind. Strange things happen in it. Time collapses.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Paul Morley: The North (And Almost Everything In It)

Here is the north, this is where it lies, where it belongs, full of itself, high up above everything else, surrounded by everything that isn't the north, that's off the page, somewhere else...

Pessimists can be such bores, and it's lazy to believe the worst.

All change begins with someone having a thought.