“Although it is still hot I roll up the windows of the car. The people on the streets regard me casually in this car of too-bright red which bears Ontario licence plates. And I recognize now upon their faces a look that I have seen upon my grandfather’s face and on the faces of hundreds of the people from my past and even on my own when seeing it reflected from the mirrors and windows of such a car as this. For it is as if I am not part of their lives at all but am here only in a sort of movable red and glass showcase that has come for a while to their private anguish-ridden streets and will soon roll on and leave the same as before my coming, part of a movement that passes through their lives but does not really touch them. Like flotsam on yet another uninteresting river that flows through their permanent banks and is bound for some invisible destination around a bend where they have never been and cannot go. Their glances have summed me up and dismissed me as casually as that. “What can he know of our near-deaths and pain and who lies buried in our graves?”
And I am overwhelmed now by the awfulness of oversimplification. For I realize that not only have I been guilty of it through this long and burning day but also through most of my yet-young life and it is only now that am doubly its victim that I begin vaguely to understand. For I had somehow thought that “going away” was a physical thing. And that it had to only do with movement and with labels like the silly “Vancouver” that I had glibly rolled off my tongue; or with the crossing of bodies of water or with the boundaries of borders. And because my father had told me I was “free” I had foolishly felt that it was really so. Just like that.”
Alistair MacLeod, The Vastness of the Dark, 36
“I have never liked successful people.
Not for being successful per se, but because they become defined by their success and are nothing but one blinkered ego. Unfettered egos spell the end of us.
The Crisis is making everyone feel a little more alone. What do people mean when they harp on about what ‘we’ are going through? There is no ‘we’. Instead of huddling together round a fire, all the individual ‘me’s are slinking off alone, eyeing one another with suspicion. Everyone thinks he’s doing better than the next man, and that too probably spells the end for all of us.”
Éric Faye, Nagasaki, 75
“I’ve never one thought about how I was going to die,” Junko said. “I can’t think about it. I don’t even know how I’m going to live.”
Miyake gave a nod. “I know what you mean,” he said. “But there’s such a thing as a way of living that’s guided by the way a person’s going to die.”
“Is that how you’re living?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. It seems that way sometimes.”
Haruki Murakami, After the Quake: Stories, 36
After I’d unpacked, hung up the clothes I’d brought, plugged in my tea kettle and my electric toothbrush, and turned on my phone to find no messages, I started to wonder what I was doing there. This very basic question can occur to anyone, anywhere, at any moment in his life, but there’s no denying that the solitary traveller is especially vulnerable. If Myriam had been with me, I’d still have had no good reason for being in Martel, yet the question simply wouldn’t have arisen. A couple is a world, autonomous and enclosed, that moves through the larger world essentially untouched; on my own, I was full of chips and cracks, and it took a certain amount of courage for me to slip the information sheet into my jacket pocket and go out into the village.
Michel Houellebecq, Submission, 71
I was always attracted not by some quantifiable, external beauty, but by something deep down, something absolute. Just as some people have a secret love for rainstorms, earthquakes, or blackouts, I liked that certain undefinable something directed my way by members of the opposite sex. For want of a better word, call it magnetism. Like it or not, it’s a kind of power that snares people and reels them in. The closest comparison might be the power of perfume. Perhaps even the master blender himself can’t explain how a fragrance that has a special power is created. Science sure can’t explain it. Still, the fact remains that a certain combination of fragrances can captivate the opposite sex like the scent of an animal in heat. One kind of fragrance might attract fifty out of a hundred people. And another scent will attract the other fifty. But there also are scents that only one or two people will find wildly exciting. And I have the ability, from far away, to sniff out those special scents. When I do, I want to go up to the girl who radiates this aura and say, Hey, I picked it up, you know. No one else gets it, but I do.
Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun, 31
Miss Spence broke a long silence by saying meditatively. “I think everyone has a right to a certain amount of happiness, don’t you?” “Most certainly.” But what was she leading up to? Nobody makes generalisations about life unless they mean to talk about themselves.
Happiness: he looked back on his own life, and saw a cheerful, placid existence disturbed by no great griefs or discomforts or alarms. He had always had money and freedom; he had been able to do very much as he wanted. Yes, he supposed he had been happy—happier than most men. And now he was not merely happy; he had discovered in irresponsibility the secret of gaiety.
Aldous Huxley, Mortal Coils, 56
“In this train there were of course no compartments, only the two coaches with their wooden benches. Some of the passengers had brought their own cushions and their blankets and cloaks to wrap around themselves. They did not look at Sophia, much less try to speak to her. What use would it be if they did? She would not be able to understand or reply. No tea wagon either. Packages wrapped in oiled paper were being opened, cold sandwiches taken out. Thick slices of bread, sharp-smelling cheese, slabs of cold cooked bacon, somewhere a herring. One woman took a fork out from a pocket in the folds of her clothing and ate pickled cabbage from a jar. That made Sophia think of home, of Russia. But these are not Russian peasants. None of them are drunk, or garrulous, or laughing. They are stiff as boards. Even the fat that blankets the bones of some of them is stiff fat, self-respecting. Lutheran fat. She knows nothing about them. But what does she really know about Russian peasants, the peasants at Palibino, when it comes to that? They were always putting on a show for their betters.”
Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun, 469
“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)