perspective

“Once, Uncle Julian told me how the sculptor and the painter Alberto Giacometti said that sometimes just to paint a head, you have to give up the whole figure. To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape. It might seem like you’re limiting yourself at first, but, after a while, you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something, you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretend to be doing the whole sky. My mother did not choose a leaf or a head. She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world”.

Nicole Krauss, The History of Love (63)

community

Nationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history, as inescapable as ‘neurosis’ in the individual, with much the same essential ambiguity attaching to it, a similar built-in capacity for descent into dementia, rooted in the dilemmas of helplessness thrust upon most of the world (the equivalent of infantilism for societies) and largely incurable.” Tom Nairn

“I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. […] In fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined

The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind. The most messianic nationalists do not dream of a day when all the members of the human race will join their nation in the way that it was possible, in certain epochs, for, say, Christians to dream of a wholly Christian planet.

It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm.

Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.
These deaths bring us abruptly face to face with the central problem posed by nationalism: what makes the shrunken imaginings of recent history (scarcely more than two centuries) generate such colossal sacrifices?”

Benedict Anderson, 1982. Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Introduction.

status

“Having a dissenting opinion on movies, music, or clothes, or owning clever or obscure possessions, is the way middle-class people fight one another for status. They can’t out-consume one another because they can’t afford it, but they can out-taste one another. Since everything is mass-produced, and often for a mass audience, finding and consuming things that appeal to your desire for authenticity is what moves these items and artists and services and goods up from the bottom to the top—where they can be mass-consumed. Hipsters, then, are the direct result of this cycle of indie, authentic, obscure, ironic, clever consumerism. Which, in itself, is ironic—but not like a trucker hat or Pabst Blue Ribbon. It is ironic in the sense the very act of trying to run counter to the culture is what creates the next wave of culture people will in turn attempt to counter.

Wait long enough, and what was once mainstream will fall into obscurity. When that happens, it will become valuable again to those looking for authenticity or irony or cleverness. The value, then, is not intrinsic. Once enough people join in, the status gained is gradually lost, and the search begins again. You would compete like this no matter how society was constructed. Competition for status is built into the human experience at the biological level. Poor people compete with resources. The middle class competes with selection. The wealthy compete with possessions. You sold out long ago in one way or another. The specifics of who you sell to and how much you make— those are only details.”

David McRaney, You Are Not So Smart, p. 153

folly

“Honor has killed one bloody hell a lot of men,” I said to the dark groove of his bruised back. “Honor without sense is… foolishness. A gallant foolishness, but foolishness nonetheless.”
“Aye, it is. And it will change–you’ve told me. But if I shall be among those who sacrifice honor for expedience… shall I feel nay shame in the doing of it?” He rolled suddenly to face me, eyes troubled in the starlight.

Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber, p. 631

lapse

“At the funeral service, the minister had compared Jonas’s life on earth to the life of a baby in the womb. The baby, he said, knows nothing of any other existence and inhabits its warm, dark, watery cave with not an inkling of the great, bright world it will soon be thrust into. And we on earth have an inkling, but are really quite unable to imagine the light that we will enter, after we have survived the travail of death. If the baby could somehow be informed of what would happen to it in the near future, would it not be incredulous as well as afraid? And so are we, most of the time, but we should not be, for we have been given assurance. Even so, our blind brains cannot imagine, cannot conceive of, what we will pass into. The baby is lapped in its ignorance, in the faith of its dumb, helpless being. And we who are not entirely ignorant or entirely knowing must take care to wrap ourselves in our faith, in the word of our Lord.”

Alice Munro, What Is Remembered, 2001

free

“It is difficult to find a single word that will adequately describe the ideal man of the free philosophers, the mystics, the founders of religions. ‘Non-attached’  is perhaps the best. The ideal man is the non-attached man. Non-attached to his bodily sensations and lusts. Non-attached to his craving for power  and possessions. Non-attached to the objects of the various desires. Non-attached to his anger and hatred; non-attached to his exclusive loves. Non-attached to wealth, fame, social position. Non-attached even to science, art, speculation, philanthropy. Yes, non-attached even to those. For, like patriotism, in Nurse Cavell’s phrase, ‘they are not enough’.”

Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, 1941, p. 4