31 August 2007

Quotes from the week's reading, part 2

As we would expect, during most wars consumer spending is deliberately held back by heavy taxes to make room for swelling military expenditure. During World War II, for example, consumption was squeezed back by heavy taxes to barely more than half of GDP. …During the Vietnam War military expenses for that conflict were not compensated by taxes to roll back consumption and the excess demand for goods and services ignited a subsequent inflation.

[Question: Could this happen today, given that the U.S. government is spending over $2 billion each week in Iraq?]

--Robert Heilbroner and Lester Thurow, Economics Explained

From Six Years Later

So long had life together been that now
The second of January fell again
On Tuesday, making her astonished brow
Lift like a windshield-wiper in the rain,
So that her misty sadness cleared, and showed
A cloudless distance waiting up the road.

Joseph Brodsky, tr. Richard Wilbur

Can we still believe at all? Or rather - for the question must be posed in a more radical fashion - is it still permissible to believe? Have we not a duty to break with the dream and face reality? The Christian of today must ask himself this question: he is not at liberty to remain satisfied with finding out that by all kinds of twists and turns an interpretation of Christianity can still be found that no longer offends anybody. When some theologian explains that "the resurrection of the dead" simply means that one must cheerfully set about the work of the future afresh every day, offense is certainly avoided. But are we then really still being honest?

--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Introduction to Christianity

Those societies that adapt themselves to the requirements of economic growth and technological innovation in a particular epoch become the economic leaders of that epoch, and societies that do not or cannot adjust to such requirements fall behind.

--Robert Gilpin, Global Political Economy

Can the mathematician who looks at the world mathematically find anything else but mathematics in the universe? Should not one rather ask him whether he has not himself at some time or other looked at the world in a way that is other than mathematical? Whether, for example, he has never seen an apple tree in blossom and wondered why the process of fertilization by the interplay between bees and trees is not affected otherwise than through the roundabout way of the blossom, thus including the completely superfluous wonder of beauty...?
Yet the man who seeks a view of the whole will have to say: In the world we find present, without doubt, objective mathematics; but we also find equally present in the world unparalleled and unexplained wonders of beauty, or, to be more accurate, there are events that appear to the apprehending mind of man in the form of beauty, so that he is bound to say that the mathematician responsible for these events has displayed an unparalleled degree of creative imagination.

--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Introduction to Christianity

30 August 2007

Quotes from the week's reading, part 1

From How It Should Be in Heaven

How it should be in Heaven I know, for I was there.
By its river. Listening to its birds.
In its season: in summer, shortly after sunrise.

Peace eternal
Could have no mornings and no evenings,
Such a deficiency speaks against it.
And that’s too hard a nut for a theologian to crack.

--Czeslaw Milosz

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.

--Joel Kurtzman, MBA in a Box

There is every reason to help the poor man who happens to be a farmer, not because he is a farmer but because he is poor. The program, that is, should be designed to help people as people, not as members of particular occupational groups, age groups, wage-rate groups, labor organizations, or industries. … The arrangement that recommends itself on purely mechanical grounds is a negative income tax…. The advantages of this arrangement are clear. It is directed specifically at the problem of poverty. It gives help in the form most useful to the individual, namely, cash. It is general and could be substituted for the host of special measures now in effect. It makes explicit the cost borne by society. Like any other measures to alleviate poverty, it reduces the incentives of those helped to help themselves, but it does not eliminate that incentive entirely, as a system of supplementing incomes up to some fixed minimum would.

--Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

And Yet The Books

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are,” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

--Czeslaw Milosz

From Relics of the Past

The dust raised by the royal cavalry has long since settled.
One by one, poets and historians, the standard-bearers of culture,
have gone silently to their graves. Of what use is the purple
and fine linen now, the baubles that women love?

--Akhtarul Iman, tr. R. Parthsarathy

27 August 2007

Personal update: the final weeks of summer

After a quiet and happy week in Michigan, I am now back in Chicago for a week of training and racing with the U of C cross-country team. This will be my fourth and final year as a member of the squad, and I am more excited about the sport and ready to race than I've been in years. We begin to miss things and feel the pain of losing them before they go, and being a member of an XC team has been a big part of my life for almost eight years. I will miss it.

I spent most of the past week reading social science and other nonfiction stuff at Barnes & Noble and Good Grains in Muskegon: Economics Explained by Robert Heilbroner and Lester Thurow, Global Political Economy by Robert Gilpin, a sociology textbook, a book on expressing emotions in Japanese, and an introductory religious studies textbook. I focused on literature all summer because I was dealing with numbers and facts all day at my job and because I was searching for direction. Now I must get into the groove of reading duller and tougher materials in order to prepare for the academic year.

The weekend was also nice: Mona Shores beat Muskegon Catholic Central for the second straight year in football on a beautiful Friday night. On Saturday, I won the Roosevelt Park Days 5k in 15:54, hung out all morning with my family and watched my 8 year-old sister in the parade, and then drove to my grandparents' cottage in Baldwin for a weekend of kayaking, looking at the stars with Grandpa on the dock, eating at backwoods diners, writing, and watching Stranger Than Fiction. Driving home through the hills and farmland of west-central Michigan, I felt outrageously happy to be alive. I get that feeling a lot these days. Fall is my favorite season: indoor warmth, Saturday morning meets, football, excitement about school, and hope for new beginnings.

This week, training and preparing for the school year in Chicago; Friday, the first race of the 2007 cross-country season (in Elmhurst); Saturday, an overnight stay in Ann Arbor to watch the Michigan vs. Appalachian State football game; another three days in Muskegon; and then, next Wednesday afternoon, I'll step off a plane and be in Tokyo for a two-week stay.

What might have been is just thin air,
A loss we long ago outgrew.

--Czeslaw Milosz, "In Salem"

After Paradise

Don't run anymore. Quiet. How softly it rains
On the roofs of the city. How perfect
All things are. Now, for the two of you
Waking up in a royal bed by a garret window.
For a man and a woman. For one plant divided
Into masculine and feminine which longed for each other.
Yes, this is my gift to you. Above ashes
On a bitter, bitter earth. Above the subterranean
Echo of clamorings and vows. So that now at dawn
You must be attentive: the tilt of a head,
A hand with a comb, two faces in a mirror
Are only forever once, even if unremembered,
So that you watch what is, though it fades away,
And are grateful every moment for your being.
Let that little park with greenish marble busts
In the pearl-gray light, under a summer drizzle,
Remain as it was when you opened the gate.
And the street of tall peeling porticoes
Which this love of yours suddenly transformed.

--Czeslaw Milosz

22 August 2007

Quotes from Max Muller, historian of religion

Not many years ago great offence was given by an eminent writer who remarked that the time had come when the history of Christianity should be treated in a truly historical spirit, in the same spirit in which we treat the history of other religions, such as Brahmanism, Buddhism, or Mohammedanism. And yet what can be truer? He must be a man of little faith, who would fear to subject his own religion to the same critical tests to which the historian subjects all other religions. We need not surely crave a tender or merciful treatment for that faith which we hold to be the only true one. We should rather challenge for it the severest tests and trials, as the sailor would for the good ship to which he entrusts his own life, and the lives of those who are most dear to him.


The difficulties which trouble us, have troubled the hearts and minds of men as far back as we can trace the beginnings of religious life.


(We) must aim at truth, trusting that even unpalatable truths, like unpalatable medicine, will reinvigorate the system which they enter. To those, no doubt, who value the tenets of their religion as the miser values his pearls and precious stones, thinking their value lessened if pearls and stones of the same kind are found in other parts of the world, the Science of Religion will bring many a rude shock; but to the true believer, truth, wherever it appears, is welcome, nor will any doctrine seem the less true or the less precious, because it was seen, not only by Moses or Christ, but likewise by Buddha or Laotse. ...Some of the most vital articles of faith are the common property of the whole of mankind....


There are philosophers, no doubt, to whom both Christianity and all other religions are exploded errors, things belonging to the past, and to be replaced by more positive knowledge. To them the study of the religions of the world could only have a pathological interest, and their hearts could never warm at the sparks of truth that light up, like stars, the dark yet glorious night of the ancient world. They tell us that the world has passed through the phases of religious and metaphysical errors, in order to arrive at the safe haven of positive knowledge of facts. But if they would but study positive facts, if they would but read, patiently and thoughtfully, the history of the world, as it is, not as it might have been: they would see that, as in geology, so in the history of human thought, theoretic uniformity does not exist, and that the past is never altogether lost. The oldest formations of thought crop out everywhere, and if we dig but deep enough, we shall find that even the sandy desert in which we are asked to live, rests everywhere on the firm foundation of that primeval, yet indestructible granite of the human soul, -- religious faith.

--Friedrich Max Muller, Chips from a German Woodshop

Perhaps there are few people here present who have watched a sunrise more than once or twice in their lives; few people who have ever known the true meaning of a morning prayer, or a morning sacrifice. But think of man at the dawn of time... with his mind yet lying fallow, though full of germs - germs of which I hold as strongly as ever no trace has ever, no trace will ever, be discovered anywhere but in man; think of the Sun awakening the eyes of man from sleep, and his mind from slumber!


It is a mere story, it might be said, and why should there be any meaning in it? My answer is, because people do not tell such stories of their gods and heroes, unless there is some sense in them.

--Friedrich Max Muller, "On the Philosophy of Mythology"

Both selections from Strenski, ed., Thinking About Religion: A Reader

Robert Gilpin on the case for free trade

Economists of every persuasion are convinced that free trade is superior to trade protection. In fact, they consider free trade to be the best policy for a country even if all other countries should practice trade protection, arguing that if other countries resort to trade protection, the economy that remained open would still gain more from cheaper imports than it would lose in denied export markets.
Underlying this liberal commitment to free trade is the belief that the purpose of economic activity is to benefit the consumer and maximize global wealth. Free trade also maximizes consumer choice, reduces prices, and facilitates efficient use of the world's scarce resources.
Economists have strongly disputed the alleged benefits of trade protection. Trade protection, they point out, reduces both national and international economic efficiency by preventing countries from exporting those goods and services in which they have a comparative advantage and from importing those goods and services in which they lack comparative advantage. Protection also decreases the incentive of firms to innovate and thus climb the technological ladder; it also discourages shifting natural resources to their most profitable use.
Most American economists have... attributed almost all of the relative decline in the wages of low-skilled American workers to technological changes within the American economy itself. Technological changes such as the computer and information economy, they have argued, significantly decreased the demand for low-skilled workers and greatly increased the demand for skilled, especially college-educated, workers. Furthermore, these economists have noted that the relatively small trade flows between the United States and low-wage economies cannot possibly explain the roughly 30 percent difference in wages between skilled/college-educated and unskilled workers in America. Instead, this decline in the wages of low-skilled workers has been due to such technological changes as automation, lean production techniques, and computerization.
It is certain that trade protection is not a wise solution to the problems of stagnant wages, income inequality, and job insecurity. The solution lies in job-training programs and other programs to aid adjustment to rapidly changing economic and technological developments.
Trade, however, does create losers as well as winners in the areas of both wages and employment. Economic sectors in which a nation possesses or wins a comparative advantage gain from trade, while sectors in which a nation loses comparative advantage suffer. As losers frequently feel the pain more acutely than winners feel the gain, both ethical and political reasons make it necessary that national policy assist or compensate workers and others harmed by trade liberalization. In any case, the worst response a nation can make to inevitable shifts in comparative advantage is to close itself off from the stimulus of trade competition.

--Robert Gilpin, Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order, ch. 8.

19 August 2007

A personal update, and last quotes from Growth of the Soil

The internship is over and I am home in Muskegon, happy to use the weather as an excuse to spend entire days reading in coffeeshops. I am leaving for Japan on September 5th and my Japanese is very rusty, and there is plenty of IR and political theory I would like to cover before school starts in late September.

This should be a wonderful week: home, family, friends, books, bowling, Muskegon, running on the lake. August continues to be the best month yet this year for me - every side of life is good and I am excited about the future. I love my apartment and roommates in Chicago, am in great shape for the cross-country season that starts next week, have read three new favorite novels over the past month (Steinbeck's Travels with Charley along with Knut Hamsun's Growth of the Soil and Pan), am satisfied with my now-completed internship, and will be in Tokyo in two and a half weeks. Things are very, very good.

The summer was difficult, not least because it was my first experience of working 50 hours a week in an office - that's a pretty big leap from academic life. But I learned an incredible amount; it often felt like I was being paid to go to school. Every day, I read The Wall Street Journal practically cover to cover as well as pages upon pages of other news sources, academic papers, and economic forecasts. My discussions about economics with my supervisors - emerging market bond portfolio managers - felt like private office hours with a great professor. I observed the way Wall Street functions and the way investment decisions are made by institutional investors. I learned how bonds work and how political risk affects investment decisions, and developed a spreadsheet to quantify the effect of political risk on developing countries' creditworthiness. I created economic forecasts for Brazil, Russia, India and China. I learned about currency fluctuations, liquidity, the subprime mortgage meltdown, current accounts, economic indicators - and much more. Every day, I was bombarded with information.

I enjoyed some aspects of the job more than others, and found that my background had left me better prepared for the political risk analysis side of the work than for the economic forecasting and modeling side of the work. But I also gained a new respect for the power and complexity of financial markets, and I realized that if one's goal is to understand the world in order to improve it, it is crucial to study markets as well as politics. Political decisions create the space and the incentive structure in which markets function, but it is useful to think of politics and markets as intertwined and inseparable.

I have a long way to go and a lot to study on all fronts, which is a major reason why I am grateful for this week of peace at home in West Michigan.

Final quotes from Hamsun's Growth of the Soil - right up there with The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and War and Peace as one of the absolute best novels I have ever gotten my hands on. This book, like the others just mentioned, has reshaped the way I think and will hopefully reshape the way I live - it has inspired me to look away from the temptation of great wealth and great expectations, avoid being another rootless young person floating around the world's cities, investigate rather than avoid the issue of abortion and find ways to reduce it, and be content with making and spending less and leaving a lighter footprint on earth. Check the book out here on Amazon.com.

Why could not folk go on living as well or as poorly now as before there had been any mine at all? Well, they could not, and that was all about it. They had grown accustomed to better food, finer bread, store-bought clothes and higher wages, general extravagance - aye, folk had learned to reckon with money more, that was the matter. And now the money was gone again, had slipped away like a shoal of herring out to sea - 'twas dire distress for them all, and what was to be done?


Inger has made her stormy voyage, 'tis true, has lived in a city a while, but now she is home; the world is wide, swarming with tiny specks - Inger has been one of them. All but nothing in all humanity, only one speck. Then comes the evening.


Nothing growing there? All things growing there; men and beasts and fruit of the soil. Isak sowing his grain. The evening sunlight falls on the grain that flashes out in an arc from his hand, and falls like a dropping of gold to the ground. ... Forest and field look on. All is majesty and power - a sequence and purpose of things.


A man of the wild was not put out by the thought of great things he could not get; art, newspapers, luxuries, politics and such-like were worth just what folk were willing to pay for them, no more. Growth of the soil was something different, a thing to be procured at any cost; the only source, the origin of all. A dull and desolate existence? Nay, least of all. A man had everything; his powers above, his dreams, his loves, his wealth of superstition.


There you are, living in touch with heaven and earth, one with them, one with all these wide, deep-rooted things. No need of a sword in your hands, you go through life bareheaded, barehanded, in the midst of a great kindliness. Look, Nature's there, for you and yours to have and enjoy. Man and Nature don't bombard each other, but agree; they don't compete, race one against the other, but go together. ... Fjeld and forest, moors and meadow, and sky and stars - oh, 'tis not poor and sparingly counted out, but without measure. Listen to me, Sivert: you be content! You've everything to live on, everything to live for, everything to believe in; being born and bringing forth, you are the needful on earth. 'Tis not all that are so, but you are so; needful on earth. 'Tis you that maintain life. Generation to generation, breeding ever anew; and when you die, the new stock goes on. That's the meaning of eternal life.

Knut Hamsun
--Growth of the Soil

13 August 2007

Excerpts from the weekend's reading

The (National Assessment of Educational Progress economics exam), taken by a representative sample of twelfth graders at public and private high schools, tested students on micro- and macroeconomic principles and international trade. What, for example, is the effect of breaking down trade barriers between countries? A majority correctly said that goods would become less expensive. They chose this over "the quality of goods available would decrease." Maybe John Edwards should hire more teenagers for his Presidential campaign.

--The Wall Street Journal, "The Kids Are All Right," 10-10-07

Ms. Rodham skates earnestly on the surface of life, raising more questions than answers. “Last week I decided that even if life is absurd why couldn’t I spend it absurdly happy?” she wrote in November of her junior year.

--The New York Times, "In the '60s, a Future Candidate Poured Her Heart Out in Letters," 7-29-07 (must-read - the best article I've seen in this entire campaign cycle, and it made me a lot more enthusiastic about the Clinton campaign. I continue, however, to support Obama.)


Yes, Eleseus was sent to town after all; Inger managed that. ...Now and again he asked for money, something towards his expenses. A watch and chain, for instance, he must have, so as not to oversleep himself in the morning and be late at the office; money for a pipe and tobacco also, such as the other young clerks in the town always had. And for something he called pocket-money, and something he called evening classes, where he learned drawing and gymnastics and other matters proper to his rank and position. Altogether, it was no light matter to keep Eleseus going in a berth in town.

"Pocket money?" said Isak. "Is that money to keep in your pocket, maybe?"

--Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil

There was trouble in his mind, like enough, but he bore it silently, and made no scene. Oh, there was something great about Isak; as it might be Israel, promised and ever deceived, but still believing.

--Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil


Later in the year Inger was sent for down to the village, to do dressmaking for some of the great folks there. Inger could not go; she had a household to look after, and animals besides, all the work of a home, and she had no servant.

Had no what? Servant!

She spoke to Isak one day. "If only I had someone to help me, I could put in more time sewing."

Isak did not understand. "Help?"

"Yes, help in the house - a servant-girl."

Isak must have been taken aback at this; he laughed a little in his iron beard, and took it as a jest.

--Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil

08 August 2007

Excerpts from Hamsun, Friedman, & Lawrence

An hour later, my thoughts are full of joy. Even little things affect me: a veil flutters on a hat, a lock of hair comes undone, two eyes close with laughter - and I am moved. Oh, this day, this day!


When you came, there was sympathy in your face and your eyes shone, you gave me your hand. Now your eyes are indifferent again. Am I mistaken?


Here are you, burning out your life for the sake of a little schoolgirl, and your nights are full of desolate dreams. And a sultry wind enwraps your head, a stale and musty wind. Whilst the sky trembles with a marvellous blue, and the mountains are calling.


A mile below me I see the sea. It is raining and I am up in the hills; an overhanging rock shelters me from the rain. I smoke my pipe, smoke one pipe after another, and every time I light up the tobacco curls up from the ash like little glowing worms. So is it also with the thoughts that teem in my head. In front of me on the ground lies a bundle of dry twigs, a shattered bird's nest. And as with that nest, so it is with my soul.

-Knut Hamsun, Pan

The consumer is protected from coercion by the seller because of the presence of other sellers with whom he can deal. The seller is protected from coercion by the consumer because of other consumers to whom he can sell. The employee is protected from coercion by the employer because of other employers for whom he can work, and so on. And the market does this impersonally and without centralized authority.

Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it does this task so well. It gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.


In particular, we shall always want to enter on the liability side of any proposed government intervention, its neighborhood effect in threatening freedom, and give this effect considerable weight.

-Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

From Pomegranate

For all that, the setting suns are open.
The end cracks open with the beginning:
Rosy, tender, glittering within the fissure.

Do you mean to tell me there should be no fissure?
No glittering, compact drops of dawn?
Do you mean it is wrong, the gold-filmed skin, integument, shown ruptured?

For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken.
It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.

-D.H. Lawrence


06 August 2007

Excerpts from Hamsun, Akhmatova, and Lawrence

He read no books, but his thoughts were often with God; it was natural, coming of simplicity and awe. The stars in the sky, the wind in the trees, the solitude and the wide-spreading snow, the might of earth and over earth filled him many times a day with a deep earnestness.

Knut Hamsun
--Growth of the Soil

From Dante

He did not return, even after his death, to
That ancient city he was rooted in.
Going away, he did not pause for breath
Nor look back. My song is for him.

Anna Akhmatova

From New Heaven and Earth

And so I cross into another world
shyly and in homage linger for an invitation
from this unknown that I would trespass on.

I am very glad, and all alone in the world,
all alone, and very glad, in a new world
where I am disembarked at last.


For when it is quite, quite nothing, then it is everything.
When I am trodden quite out, quite, quite out,
every vestige gone, then I am here
risen, and setting my foot on another world
risen, not born again, but risen, body the same as before,
new beyond knowledge of newness, alive beyond life,
proud beyond inkling or furthest conception of pride,
living where life was never yet dreamed of, nor hinted at,
here, in the other world, still terrestrial
myself, the same as before, yet unaccountably new.


Ah no, I cannot tell you what it is, the new world.
I cannot tell you the mad, astounded rapture of its discovery.
I shall be mad with delight before I have done,
and whosoever comes after will find me in the new world
a madman in rapture.

D.H. Lawrence

And in the night, he lay wanting her, and she was willing. She did not go away next morning; all that day she did not go, but helped about the place; milked the goats, and scoured pots and things with fine sand, and got them clean. She did not go away at all. Inger was her name. And Isak was his name. ... She did not run away. When he had been out, and came home again, there was Inger at the hut; the two were one, the woman and the hut.


Ho, they were getting well-to-do, with this hut of theirs, this farm of theirs; why, 'twas good enough for anyone. Aye, they'd as good as all they could wish for already. Oh, that Inger; he loved her and she loved him again; they were frugal folk; they lived in primitive wise, and lacked for nothing. "Let's go to sleep!" And they went to sleep. And wakened in the morning to another day, with things to look at, matters to see to, once again; aye, toil and pleasure, ups and downs, the way of life.

Knut Hamsun
--Growth of the Soil

04 August 2007

Knut Hamsun's "Pan"

I just finished the best novel I've read in a very long time. I am stunned at how beautiful Knut Hamsun's writing is, and cannot believe that he is not a household name in America. He was a very flawed man - like Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, and too many others, he abused his considerable intellectual gifts in support of Nazism, and it is understandable that this removed his right to a full place in the Great Books pantheon.

All the same, however, he is an incredible writer whose work deserves to be a standard on classics lists. Pan was a truly special read, and I am going to read as many of his novels as I can get my hands on. Here are some excerpts to give you a taste:


In a big, white-washed house down by the sea, I met someone who for a short while filled my thoughts. She is no longer always in my memory, not now - no, I have quite forgotten her. But I do recall the other things, the cries of the sea birds, the hunting in the forest, my nights, and all the warm hours of the summer. It was in any case by sheer chance that I met her; and had it not been for that chance she would never have lain in my thoughts for a single day.


For it is within ourselves that the sources of joy and sorrow lie.


There was a boulder outside my hut, a big grey boulder. It always seemed by its expression to be well-disposed towards me; it was as if it saw me as I came past and knew me again. I used to like making my way past this boulder when I went out in the mornings, and it was as though I left a good friend there who would be waiting when I got back.


For some days a chill atmosphere of unrest hung over the earth; rotten branches snapped and the crows collected in flocks and squawked. But it was not for long, the sun was near; one morning it rose up behind the forest. A sweet pang strikes through me when the sun comes; I throw my gun on my shoulder in silent rejoicing.


I followed every bend, taking my time; there was no hurry and nobody was waiting for me at home. Free as a king I went my way in the peace of the forest, as leisurely as I pleased.


Everywhere the sky was open and pure. I gazed into the clear sea and it was as if I lay face to face with the depths of the earth, and as if my beating heart went out to those depths and was at home there.

More excerpts to come; all of the above beauties were in the first ten pages of the 192 page book. A New Yorker article about Hamsun can be found here, and the book can be purchased here. I give it my highest recommendation.

03 August 2007

Quotes from Pascal's "Thoughts"

Never does one do evil so fully and so gaily as when one does it as a matter of conscience.

--Pensee 895

What a man's virtue is capable of is not to be measured by his exceptional efforts, but by his daily life.

--Pensee 352

He must have movements of humiliation, not as a consequence of his nature, but of penitence; not as a constant attitude, but to permit him to rise to elevation. He must have movements of elevation, not because of his merit, but through grace, and after passing through humiliation.

--Pensee 525

Now, what advantage is there for us in hearing a man say that he has shaken off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God watching over his actions, that he considers himself as sole master of his own conduct, and that he intends to be accountable to no one but himself? Does he think he has inclined us in this way to have henceforth much confidence in him, and to expect from him consolation, counsel, and assistance in all the emergencies of life? Do such people claim to have caused us to rejoice by telling us that they consider that our soul is only a little wind and smoke, and even by telling us so in a proud and smug tone of voice? Is that really something to be said gaily? Is it not on the contrary something to be said sadly, as the saddest thing in the world?

--Pensee 194

Faith declares indeed what the senses do not say but never the contrary of what they perceive. Faith is above, and not against.

--Pensee 265

It is being superstitious to put one's hope in rites; but one is guilty of overweening pride in refusing to submit to them.

--Pensee 294

Just examine whether a given pleasure is stable or fleeting; if it passes, it is a river of Babylon.

--Pensee 459

It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but it is from the ordering of my thought. The possession of lands would give me nothing more. By space, the universe envelops me. By thought, I envelop it.

--Pensee 348

They imagine that, if they had obtained that post, they would rest afterwards with pleasure; but they do not recognize the insatiable nature of their desire. They believe that they are sincerely seeking repose, and in reality they seek only agitation.

--Pensee 139


02 August 2007

Quotes from Merton, Steinbeck, and Leon & Amy Kass

One of the most important - and most neglected - elements in the beginnings of the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the splendor that is all around us in the creatures of God. We do not see these things because we have withdrawn from them.

--Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

There's absolutely nothing to take the place of a good man.

--John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

For asceticism is not merely a matter of renouncing television, cigarettes, and gin. Before we can begin to be ascetics, we first have to learn to see life as if it were something more than a hypnotizing telecast. And we must be able to taste something besides tobacco and alcohol: we must perhaps be able to taste these luxuries themselves as if they too were good.

--Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

But Charley doesn't have our problems. He doesn't belong to a species clever enough to split the atom but not clever enough to live in peace with itself. He doesn't even know about race, nor is he concerned with his sister's marriage. It's quite the opposite. Once Charley fell in love with a daschund, a romance racially unsuitable, physically ridiculous, and mechanically impossible. But all these problems Charley ignored. He loved deeply and tried dogfully.

--John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

For in truth, despite their differences, those who treasure marriage in fact stand on common ground: whether religious or secular, they take human life in all its seriousness, affirm its goodness, and commit themselves in hope to its indefinite renewal and perpetuation.

--Leon and Amy Kass, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar