Life: Belief edition

“It is difficult to believe in a thing when one is alone and there is no one to speak to.”

—Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe. Truth has collective properties, and that’s one reason 1984 and similar political-informational dystopias are so scary: they prevent individuals from exploring or testing their beliefs. This same issue is part of the reason the best scholars worry about political correctness on campus, which attempts to stifle heretical ideas, rather than merely arguing that they are wrong.

Life: The trap edition

The pursuit of easier life resulted in much hardship, and not for the last time. It happens to us today. How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.

—Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which is quite good, though the above is out of context.

I wonder how much of the financial arms race is driven by a) parochial housing policies and b) the number of people who genuinely enjoy the work at high-powered firms. Some small number of people do really enjoy being lawyers. Not many, but they exist.

Life: Interpretation and the work edition

Hamlet is not a masterpiece; it’s a muddled tragedy, which fails to bring its disparate sources into a coherent whole. But that’s also why it has become an enigma that continues to fascinate and provoke debate all over the world. Hamlet isn’t a masterpiece on account of its literary qualities; it has become one precisely because it resists our interpretation. Sometimes it’s the weirdness that makes a text go down in history.”

—Umberto Eco, from This is Not the End of the Book (a book that demands to be read in gorgeous hardcover, given the many comments about the physicality of books within). I wonder if the observation about enigma and failure to cohere could apply too to this season of True Detective, which is only charitably coherent. Sadly, though, it is much less linguistically interesting than Hamlet and much less visually interesting than much of what else is in the media.

Life: The writer edition

“Isabella, if you really want to devote yourself to writing, or at least to writing something others will read, you’re going to have to get used to sometimes being ignored, insulted, and despised and to almost always being considered with indifference. It’s an occupational hazard.”

—Daivd Martín in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game

Life: The novel edition

“It would seem that fiction writing is trying to satisfy two needs that are at loggerheads: to tell and not tell.”

—Tim Parks, Where I’m Reading From; out of context the quote seems almost nonsensical, but in context it is brilliant. The book itself is brilliant too, and I may write a longer post covering it, if I can get past how much I have to say about it.

Art is filled with weird paradoxes and contradictions, which is one reason it’s so hard to talk meaningfully about it.

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