“Can you remember how acute your sensations were, how intensely you felt about everything, when you were a child? The rapture of raspberries and cream, the horror of fish, the hell of castor oil! And the torture of having to get up and recite before the whole class! The inexpressible joy of sitting next to the driver, with the smell of horse sweat and leather in one’s nostrils, the white road stretching away to infinity, and the fields of corn and cabbages slowly turning, as the buggy rolled past, slowly opening and shutting like enormous fans. When you’re a child, your mind is like a kind of saturated solution of feeling, a suspension of all the thrills – but in a latent state, in a condition of indeterminacy. Sometimes it’s external circumstances that act as a crystallising agent, sometimes it’s your own imagination. You want some special kind of thrill, and you deliberately work away at yourself until you get it – a bright pink crystal of pleasure, for example, a green or bruise-coloured lump of fear; for fear, of course, is a thrill like any other, fear is a hideous kind of fun.”

Aldous Huxley, The Genius and the Goddess, 27



“A life without love, without the presence of the beloved, is but poor comédie à tiroir. We draw out slide after slide, swiftly tiring of each, and pushing it back to make haste to the next. Even what we know to be good and important hangs but wearily together; every step is an end, and every step is a fresh beginning.”

Goethe, Elective Affinities, Part II, Chapter 9 


“But it is well for us that man can only endure a certain degree of unhappiness; what is beyond that, either annihilates him, or passes by him, and leaves him apathetic. There are situations in which hope and fear run together, in which they mutually destroy one another, and lose themselves in a dull indifference. If it were not so, how could we bear to know of those who are most dear to us being in hourly peril, and yet go on as usual with our ordinary everyday life?”

Goethe, Elective Affinities, Part II, Chapter 4 

sea wolf

<His voice grew soft, and a confiding note came into it. ‘Do you know, I sometimes catch myself wishing that I, too, were blind to the facts of life and only knew its fancies and illusions. They’re wrong, all wrong, of course, and contrary to reason; but in the face of them my reason tells me, wrong and most wrong, that to dream and live illusions gives greater delight. And after all, delight is the wage for living. Without delight, living is a worthless act. To labour at living and be unpaid is worse than to be dead. He who delights the most lives the most, and your dreams and unrealities are less disturbing to you and more gratifying than are my facts to me.’

He shook his head slowly, pondering.

‘I often doubt, I often doubt, the worthwhileness of reason. Dreams must be more substantial and satisfying. Emotional delight is more filling and lasting than intellectual delight; and, besides, you pay for your moments of intellectual delight by having the blues. Emotional delight is followed by no more than jaded senses which speedily recuperate. I envy you, I envy you.’

He stopped abruptly, and then on his lips formed one of his strange quizzical smiles, as he added:

‘It’s from my brain I envy you, take notice, and not from my heart. My reason dictates it. The envy is an intellectual product. I am like a sober man looking upon drunken men, and, weary, wishing he, too were drunk.’

‘Or like a wise man looking upon fools and wishing he, too, were a fool,’ I laughed.

‘Quite so,’ he said. ‘You are a blessed, bankrupt pair of fools. You have no facts in your pocketbook.’>

Jack London, The Sea Wolf, 211


“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 seldom feel uplifted in a city; on the contrary, I feel oppressed and confined. In my travels I have been more interested in the places that lay between the great cities than the cities themselves: the hinterlands, not the capital. It is my suspicion that people who are glamoured by big cities and think of themselves as urbane and thoroughly metropolitan are at heart country mice – simple, fearful, overdomesticated provincials, dazzled by city lights.”

Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, 20


“The decision to return to any early scene in your life is dangerous but irresistible, not as a search for lost time but for the grotesquerie of what happened since. In most cases it is like meeting an old lover years later and hardly recognizing the object of desire in this pinched and bruised old fruit. We all live with fantasies of transformation. Live long enough and you see them enacted – the young made old, the road improved, houses where there were once fields; and their opposites, a good school turned into ruin, a river poisoned, a pond shrunk and filled with trash, and dismal reports: “He’s dead,” “He’s in jail,” “You can’t go there anymore.”

Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, 20


“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


“Sometimes, all you need is permission to feel. Sometimes, what causes the most pain is actually the attempt to resist feeling, or the shame that grows up like thorns around it. During my lowest period in New York, almost the only thing I found consoling was watching music videos on YouTube, curled on the sofa with my headphones on, listening again and again to the same voices finding the register for their distress. Antony and the Johnsons’ miraculous, grieving ‘Fistful of Love’, Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, Justin Vivian Bond’s triumphant ‘In the End’, Arthur Russell singing ‘Love Comes Back’, with its lovely permissive refrain, being sad is not a crime.”

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City, 138