I hate solitude, but I am afraid of intimacy. The substance of my life is a private conversation with myself which to turn into a dialogue would be equivalent to self-destruction. The company which I need is the company which a pub or a café will provide. I have never wanted a communion of souls. It’s already hard enough to tell the truth to oneself.
Iris Murdoch, Under the Net, 27
I took my time, trying to find the right words.
“I always feel like I’m struggling to become someone else. Like I’m trying to find a new place, grab hold of a new life, a new personality. I guess it’s part of growing up, yet it’s also an attempt to reinvent myself. By becoming a different me, I could free myself of everything. I seriously believed I could escape myself–as long as I made the effort. But I always hit a dead end. No matter where I go, I still end up me. What’s missing never changes. The scenery may change, but I’m still the same old incomplete person. The same missing elements torture me with a hunger that I can never satisfy. I guess that lack itself is as close as I’ll come to defining myself. For your sake, I’d like to become a new person. It may not be easy, but if I give it my best shot, perhaps I can manage to change. The truth is, though, if put in the same situation again, I might very well do the same thing all over. I might very well hurt you all over again. I can’t promise anything. That’s what I meant when I said I had no right I just don’t have the confidence to win over that force in me.”
“And you’ve always been trying to escape that force?”
“I think so,” I said.
Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun, 161
Because memory and sensations are so uncertain, so biased, we always rely on a certain reality—call it an alternate reality—to prove the reality of events. To what extent facts we recognize as such really are as they seem, and to what extent these are facts merely because we label them as such, is an impossible distinction to draw. Therefore, in order to pin down reality as reality, we need another reality to relativize the first, yet that other reality requires a third reality to serve as its grounding. An endless chain is created within our consciousness, and it is the very maintenance of this chain that produces the sensation that we are actually here, that we ourselves exist But something can happen to sever that chain, and we are at a loss. What is real? Is reality on this side of the break in the chain? Or over there, on the other side?
Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun, 155
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
She was learning, quite late, what many people around her appeared to have known since childhood—that life can be perfectly satisfying without major achievements. It could be brimful of occupations which did not weary you to the bone. Acquiring what you needed for a comfortably furnished life, and then to take on a social and public life of entertainment, would keep you from even being bored or idle, and would make you feel at the end of the day that you had done exactly what pleased everybody. There need be no agonizing.
Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness, 272
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
“That small family ceremony was the only time politics entered our house. When my father came home from work, and the table was laid with rice, soup, kimchi and pickles, which we ate with every meal, my mother waited for me to say: ‘Thank you, Respected Father Leader Kim Il-sung, for our food’ before we picked up our chopsticks. But over dinner my parents chatted only of personal matters, or family. There was usually plenty of innocuous family news from Hyesan to talk about. Serious topics were never discussed. I learned to avoid them in the way children acquire a sense for the dangers of the road. This was for my own protection, and we were no different from other families in that respect. Since there was no aspect of life, public or private, that fell outside the authority of the Party, almost every topic of conversation was potentially political, and potentially dangerous. My parent would not risk an incautious remark that might be repeated innocently by me, or misunderstood.”
Hyeonseo Lee – The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story, 157
“This was the first time in America that I had to give someone the news of a fatal illness, but it felt like the first time ever. It was as if in Ethiopia, and even in Nairobi, people assumed that all illness – even a trivial or imagined one – was fatal; they expected death. The news to convey in Africa was that you’d kept death at bay. Those things that you couldn’t do, and those diseases you couldn’t reverse, were left unspoken. It was understood. I don’t recall an equivalent word for “prognosis” in Amharic, and I’d never tried to speak for a patient about five-year survival or anything like that. In America, my initial impression was that death or the possibility of it always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took for granted that we were immortal, and that death was just an option.”
Abraham Verghese – Cutting for Stone, 443
“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)