Favorite Quotes

Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it. — Bruce Lee

Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. — Thales

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. — Plutarch

My soul is a fire that suffers if it doesn’t burn. I need three or four cubic feet of new ideas every day, as a steamboat needs coal. — Jean Prevost

The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts. —  Marcus Aurelius

Do you know the secret of the true scholar? In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. —  Okakura Kakuzo

We have each of us in the dustiest cellars of our minds a counter at which we strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased currency of the present. — Gene Wolf, Sword of the Lictor

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind Sand and Stars

The astrolabe of the mysteries of God is love. — Rumi

Love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another. — John Williams, Stoner

Those we like least are those most like us, but with the faults uncured. — Marcel Proust

Were I to wish for anything I would not wish for wealth and power, but for the passion of the possible, that eye which everywhere, ever young, ever burning, sees possibility. Pleasure disappoints, not possibility. — Søren Kierkegaard

That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions, and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions. — George Santayana

Resolution and a plan are better than a sword, because a man whets his own edges on them. — Gene Wolfe

Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know how to die delivers us from all subjection and constraint. —  Montaigne

The ultimate weapon has always existed. Every man, every woman, and every child owns it. It's the ability to say No and take the consequences. —  Robert Anton Wilson. Illuminatus!

While they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was learning a tune on the flute. “What good will it do you,” they asked, “to know this tune before you die?” —  Emile Cioran

Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now —  Viktor Frankl

Morality is not properly the doctrine how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness. — Immanuel Kant

A man exists for culture; not for what he can accomplish, but for what can be accomplished in him. —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Men are a thousand times more intent on becoming rich than on acquiring culture, though it is quite certain that what a man is contributes more to his happiness than what he has. — Arthur Schopenhauer

Most men never rise above viewing things as objects of desire—hence their misery; but to see things purely as objects of understanding is to rise to freedom. — Will Durant

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts he shall end in certainties. — Francis Bacon

You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way. — Marvin Minsky.

The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward. — Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

We thrive in adversity and perish in ease and comfort. — Mencius

Nothing is more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you. — Sherlock Holmes

Art

Books rule the world. — Voltaire

There are no genres, there are only talents. — Jean-Francois Revel

Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.  —  George Eliot

We are all one question, and the best answer seems to be love — a connection between things. This arcane bit of knowledge is respoken every day into the ears of readers of great books, and also appears to perpetually slip under a carpet, utterly forgotten.  —  Mary Ruefle

To grasp the meaning of the world of today we use a language created to express the world of yesterday. The life of the past seems to us nearer our true natures, but only for the reason that it is nearer our language. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind Sand and Stars

It is difficult and painful for the ear to listen to anything new; we hear strange music badly. — Friedrich Nietzsche

A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it. — Roger Ebert

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. — Duke Ellington

Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them. — Brian Eno

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. —  Franz Kafka

Literature, real literature, must not be gulped down like some potion which may be good for the heart or good for the brain - the brain, that stomach of the soul. Literature must be taken and broken to bits, pulled apart, squashed -then its lovely reek will be smelt in the hollow of the palm, it will be munched and rolled upon the tongue with relish; then, and only then, its rare flavor will be appreciated at its true worth and the broken and crushed parts will again come together in your mind and disclose the beauty of a unity to which you have contributed something of your own blood. — Vladimir Nabokov

It often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food [...] are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own. — Gene Wolf, Sword of the Lictor

When we talk about the imponderables of life, we don't really mean that we can't ponder them. We mean that we can't stop. Hence the conversation: a Sargasso of monologues that were all attracted to the noise. Some of the voices are talking murder while thinking it to be medicine. Others, the blessed ones, are talking reason. Almost always it is because they know their own limitations. But unless they were born as saints, they had to find out they were not infallible by listening to the words of others. Most of the words were written down, and most of the listening was done by reading.  —  Clive James, Cultural Amnesia

Man will become better when you show him what he is like. —  Anton Chekhov

Politics

When cosmopolitan currents bring diverse people into discussion, when freedom of speech allows the discussion to go where it pleases, and when history’s failed experiments are held up to the light, the evidence suggests that value systems evolve in the direction of liberal humanism. — Steven Pinker. Better Angels of Our Nature

Humanism was a particularized but unconfined concern with all the high-quality products of the creative impulse, which could be distinguished from the destructive one by its propensity to increase the variety of the created world rather than reduce it. — Clive James. Cultural Amnesia

The essential difference between a sense of history and an ideology. A sense of history reveals variety, and an ideology conceals it. — Clive James. Cultural Amnesia

Plans for what would be perfect today are often invalidated by the changing imperatives of tomorrow. No one thing, but only the nurturing of diversity serves best. — John Reader. Cities

Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus. Unless you find a profit in fencing off universal properties of mankind into exclusive tribal ownership. — Ralph Wiley

In whichever way a democratic system might be sick, terrorism does not heal it, it kills it. Democracy is healed with democracy. —Virginio Rognoni

O, let America be America again, The land that never has been yet, And yet must be, the land where every man is free. — Langston Hughes

Nothing is possible without men, but nothing lasts without institutions — Jean Monnet

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed. — Herman Melville

Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. — George Orwell

Students of the state habitually classify societies according as their governments are monarchical, aristocratic, or democratic; but these are superficial distinctions; the great dividing line is that which separates militant from industrial societies, nations that live by war from those that live by work. The military state is always centralized in government, and almost always monarchical; the cooperation it inculcates is regimental and compulsory; it encourages authoritarian religion, worshiping a warrior god; it develops rigid class distinctions and class codes; it props up the natural domestic absolutism of the male [...] As the contrast between the militant and the industrial types is indicated by inversion of the belief that individuals exist for the benefit of the state into the belief that the state exists for the benefit of individuals; so the contrast between the industrial type and the type likely to be evolved from it is indicated by inversion of the belief that life is for work into the belief that work is for life. — Herbert Spencer

An institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself. — Ibn Khaldūn's definition of government

If the police don't trust the people then why don't they just dissolve them and elect a new people? — Bertolt Brecht

Being asked, what he thought was the best managed city? "That," [Solon] answered, "in which those who are not wronged espouse the cause of those who are, and punish their oppressors." — Plutarch

Freedom is the right of all sentient beings. — Optimus Prime

Prose

Here Phaethon lies who in the sun-god's chariot fared. And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared. — Ovid. Metamorphoses

I want to rise so high that when I shit I won’t miss anybody. — William Gass

The voice of his youngest brother from the farther side of the fireplace began to sing the air Oft in the Stilly Night. One by one the others took up the air until a full choir of voices was singing. They would sing so for hours, melody after melody, glee after glee, till the last pale light died down on the horizon, till the first dark nightclouds came forth and night fell. He waited for some moments, listening, before he too took up the air with them. He was listening with pain of spirit to the overtone of weariness behind their frail fresh innocent voices. Even before they set out on life's journey they seemed weary already with the way. He heard the choir of voices in the kitchen echoed and multiplied through an endless reverberation of the choirs of endless generations of children and heard in all the echoes also of the recurring notes of weariness and pain. All seemed weary of life even before entering upon it. And he remembered that Newman had heard this note also in the broken lines of Virgil giving utterance, like the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness yet hope of better things which has been the experience of her children in every time. — James Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A minor accident had forced me down in the Rio de Oro region, in Spanish Africa. Landing on one of those table-lands of the Sahara which fall away steeply at the sides, I found myself on the flat top of the frustrum of a cone, an isolated vestige of a plateau that had crumbled round the edges. In this part of the Sahara such truncated cones are visible from the air every hundred miles or so, their smooth surfaces always at about the same altitude above the desert and their geologic substance always identical. The surface sand is composed of minute and distinct shells; but progressively as you dig along a vertical section, the shells become more fragmentary, tend to cohere, and at the base of the cone form a pure calcareous deposit. Without question, I was the first human being ever to wander over this ... this iceberg; its sides were remarkably steep, no Arab could have climbed them, and no European had as yet ventured into this wild region. I was thrilled by the virginity of a soil which no step of man or beast had sullied. I lingered there, startled by this silence that never had been broken . The first star began to shine, and I said to myself that this pure surface had lain here thousands of years in sight only of the stars. But suddenly my musings on this white sheet and these shining stars were endowed with a singular significance. I had kicked against a hard, black stone, the size of a man’s fist, a sort of moulded rock of lava incredibly present on the surface of a bed of shells a thousand feet deep. A sheet spread beneath an apple-tree can receive only apples; a sheet spread beneath the stars can receive only star-dust. Never had a stone fallen from the skies made known its origin so unmistakably. And very naturally, raising my eyes, I said to myself that from the height of this celestial apple-tree there must have dropped other fruits, and that I should find them exactly where they fell, since never from the beginning of time had anything been present to displace them. Excited by my adventure, I picked up one and then a second and then a third of these stones, finding them at about the rate of one stone to the acre. And here is where my adventure became magical, for in a striking foreshortening of time that embraced thousands of years, I had become the witness of this miserly rain from the stars. The marvel of marvels was that there on the rounded back of the planet, between this magnetic sheet and those stars, a human consciousness was present in which as in a mirror that rain could be reflected. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Wind, Sand, and Stars

Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;— Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it. — Herman Melville. Moby Dick

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new. When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the rack and shipped back to the United States, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous content into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anyone ever again. — Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five

“From now on I’m thinking only of me.”
Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile, “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.”
“Then I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?” — Joseph Heller. Catch-22

Under the hooves of the horses the alabaster sand shaped itself in whorls strangely symmetric like iron filings in a field and these shapes flared and drew back again, resonating upon that harmonic ground and then turning to swirl away over the playa. As if the very sediment of things contained yet some residue of sentience. As if in the transit of those riders were a thing so profoundly terrible as to register even to the uttermost granulation of reality. — Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian

It astonished her to think that so much could be lost, even the quantity of hallucination belonging just to the sailor that the world would bear no further trace of. She knew, because she had held him, that he suffered DT’s. Behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare. The saint whose water can light lamps, the clairvoyant whose lapse in recall is the breath of God, the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose puns probe ancient fetid shafts and tunnels of truth all act in the same special relevance to the word, or whatever it is the word is there, buffering , to protect us from. The act of metaphor then was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were: inside, safe, or outside, lost. Oedipa did not know where she was. Trembling, unfurrowed, she slipped sidewise, screeching back across grooves of years , to hear again the earnest, high voice of her second or third collegiate love Ray Glozing bitching among “uhs” and the syncopated tonguing of a cavity, about his freshman calculus; “dt,” God help this old tattooedman, meant also a time differential, a vanishingly small instant in which change had to be confronted at last for what it was, where it could no longer disguise itself as something innocuous like an average rate; where velocity dwelled in the projectile though the projectile be frozen in midflight, where death dwelled in the cell though the cell be looked in on at its most quick. She knew that the sailor had seen worlds no other man had seen if only because there was that high magic to low puns, because DT’s must give access to dt’s of spectra beyond the known sun, music made purely of Antarctic loneliness and fright. But nothing she knew of would preserve them, or him. — Thomas Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49

What is it that confers the noblest delight? What is that which swells a man's breast with pride above that which any other experience can bring to him? Discovery! To know that you are walking where none others have walked; that you are beholding what human eye has not seen before; that you are breathing a virgin atmosphere. To give birth to an idea--to discover a great thought--an intellectual nugget, right under the dust of a field that many a brain--plow had gone over before. To find a new planet, to invent a new hinge, to find the way to make the lightnings carry your messages. To be the first--that is the idea. To do something, say something, see something, before any body else--these are the things that confer a pleasure compared with which other pleasures are tame and commonplace, other ecstasies cheap and trivial. Morse, with his first message, brought by his servant, the lightning; Fulton, in that long-drawn century of suspense, when he placed his hand upon the throttle-valve and lo, the steamboat moved; Jenner, when his patient with the cow's virus in his blood, walked through the smallpox hospitals unscathed; Howe, when the idea shot through his brain that for a hundred and twenty generations the eye had been bored through the wrong end of the needle; the nameless lord of art who laid down his chisel in some old age that is forgotten, now, and gloated upon the finished Laocoon; Daguerre, when he commanded the sun, riding in the zenith, to print the landscape upon his insignificant silvered plate, and he obeyed; Columbus, in the Pinta's shrouds, when he swung his hat above a fabled sea and gazed abroad upon an unknown world! These are the men who have really lived--who have actually comprehended what pleasure is--who have crowded long lifetimes of ecstasy into a single moment. — Mark Twain. The Innocents Abroad

“Yes,” he said in a voice indescribable, “you are right. I am afraid of him. Therefore I swear by God that I will seek out this man whom I fear until I find him, and strike him on the mouth. If heaven were his throne and the earth his footstool, I swear that I would pull him down.”
“How?” asked the staring Professor. “Why?"
“Because I am afraid of him,” said Syme; “and no man should leave in the universe anything of which he is afraid.” — GK Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

A pocket-knife, I need hardly say, would require a thick book full of moral meditations all to itself. A knife typifies one of the most primary of those practical origins upon which as upon low, thick pillows all our human civilisation reposes. Metals, the mystery of the thing called iron and of the thing called steel, led me off half-dazed into a kind of dream. I saw into the intrails of dim, damp wood, where the first man among all the common stones found the strange stone. I saw a vague and violent battle, in which stone axes broke and stone knives were splintered against something shining and new in the hand of one desperate man. I heard all the hammers on all the anvils of the earth. I saw all the swords of Feudal and all the weals of Industrial war. For the knife is only a short sword; and the pocket-knife is a secret sword. I opened it and looked at that brilliant and terrible tongue which we call a blade; and I thought that perhaps it was the symbol of the oldest of the needs of man. The next moment I knew that I was wrong; for the thing that came next out of my pocket was a box of matches. Then I saw fire, which is stronger even than steel, the old, fierce female thing, the thing we all love, but dare not touch. — GK Chesterton. Tremendous Trifles

And was this, we say, later, when it’s over, really us? But it’s impossible! How could that fool, that impossible actor, ever have been us? How could we have been that posturing clown? Who put that false laughter into our mouths? Who drew those insincere tears from our eyes? Who taught us all that artifice of suffering? We have been hiding all the time; the events, that once were so real, happened to other people, who resemble us, imitators using our name, registering in hotels we stayed at, declaiming verses we kept in private scrapbooks; but not us, surely not us, we wince thinking that it could ever have possibly been us. — Alfred Hayes. In Love

Then came the crumbling away of a grey veil from the face of the night, and beyond the furthermost film of the terraced clouds there burst of a sudden a swarm of burning crystals, and, afloat in their centre, a splinter of curved fire. — Mervyn Peake. Titus Groan

My body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires. — James Joyce. Dubliners

Opening Lines

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. — Genesis

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. — Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude

He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead. — Alfred Bester. The Stars My Destination

Well, when I had been dead about thirty years I begun to get a little anxious. — Mark Twain. Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven

This is not for you. — Mark Z. Danielewski. House of Leaves