“Hope consists in asserting that there is at the heart of being, beyond all data, beyond all inventories and all calculations, a mysterious principle which is in connivance with me. And hope is a willing, a wanting, not only for ourselves but for others. There can be no hope that does not constitute itself through a we and for a we. I would be tempted to say that all hope is at the bottom choral.”

Gabriel Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond

(George Frederic Watts' Hope)

“Each neighborhood of the city appeared to be made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks. My futile task of sorting went on until the forms began to morph into each other and assume abstract shapes unrelated to the real city, and only then did my hectic mind finally show some pity and still itself, only then did dreamless sleep arrive."

Teju Cole, Open City

(Jeremy Mann's Manhattan Nights)

"But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope."

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

(Zdzisław Beksiński, Untitled) 

"Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself -- be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself -- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love -- the more human he is."

Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

(Mark Tansey, Robbe Grillet Cleansing Everything In Sight)

Forgetfulness is like a song
That, freed from beat and measure, wanders. 
Forgetfulness is like a bird whose wings are reconciled, 
Outspread and motionless, -- 
A bird that coasts the wind unwearyingly. 

Forgetfulness is rain at night, 
Or an old house in a forest, -- or a child. 
Forgetfulness is white, -- white as a blasted tree, 
And it may stun the sybil into prophecy, 
Or bury the Gods. 


I can remember much forgetfulness. 

 

Hart Crane, "Forgetfulness"

(John Atkinson Grimshaw's Snow and Mist)

"And in this silence of the dumb and these speeches of the blind, in this medley of people bound together by the same grief, terror and hope, in this hatred and lack of understanding between men who spoke the same tongue, you could see much of the tragedy of the twentieth century."

Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate

(John Singer Sargent, Faces) 

"We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours. And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell."

Franz Kafka, Letter To Oskar Pollak, 1903

(Zdzisław Beksiński, Untitled) 

“Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.” 

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams

(Odilon Redon's Closed Eyes)

“I hate wise men because they are lazy, cowardly, and prudent. To the philosophers’ equanimity, which makes them indifferent to both pleasure and pain, I prefer devouring passions. The sage knows neither the tragedy of passion, nor the fear of death, nor risk and enthusiasm, nor barbaric, grotesque, or sublime heroism. He talks in proverbs and gives advice. He does not live, feel, desire, wait for anything. He levels down all the incongruities of life and then suffers the consequences. So much more complex is the man who suffers from limitless anxiety. The wise man’s life is empty and sterile, for it is free from contradiction and despair. An existence full of irreconcilable contradictions is so much richer and creative. The wise man’s resignation springs from inner void, not inner fire. I would rather die of fire than of void.”

Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

(René Magritte’s Evening Falls)

"I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things."

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

(John Singer Sargent, Gassed)

 

"You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong.... The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that – well, lucky you."

Philip Roth, American Pastoral

(René Magritte, The Infinite Recognition)

"Wisps of snow were still on the wind, too, sweet and sharp. The sun was going down. It sank into the stand of beech trees beyond the back lot, lighting their tops, so that their bare arterial branches turned to a netting of black vessels around brains made of light. The trees lolled under the weight of those luminescent organs growing at the tops of their slender trunks. The brains murmured among themselves. They kept counsel and possessed a wintery wisdom-cold scarlet and opaline minds, brief and burnished, flaring in the metallic blue of dusk. And then they were gone. The light drained from the sky and the trees and funneled to a point on the western horizon, where it seemed to be swallowed by the earth. The branches of the trees were darknesses over the lesser dark of dusk. Kathleen thought, That is like Howard's brain-lit and used up and then dark. Lit too brightly. How much light does the mind need? Have use for? Like a room full of lamps. Like a brain full of light."

Paul Harding, Tinkers

(Caspar David Friedrich, Trees in the Moonlight)

"Tears streamed down his face and he cradled the barrel of the shotgun in his arms as though it were the woman he had been begging for, searching for, all his life. “Gimme hate, Lord,” he whimpered. “I’ll take hate any day. But don’t give me love. I can’t take no more love, Lord. I can’t carry it. Just like Mr. Smith. He couldn’t carry it. It’s too heavy. Jesus, you know. You know all about it. Ain’t it heavy? Jesus? Ain’t love heavy? Don’t you see, Lord? You own son couldn’t carry it. If it killed Him, what You think it’s gonna do to me? Huh? Huh?”"

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

(Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fallen Angel)

"'Everyday things represent the most overlooked knowledge. These names are vital to your progress. Quotidian things. If they weren't important, we wouldn't use such a gorgeous Latinate word. Say it,' he said.

 'Quotidian.'

 'An extraordinary word that suggests the depth and reach of the commonplace.'"

Don DeLillo, Underworld 

(Vincent Van Gogh, A Pair of Shoes)

"To treat the cup as totally irrelevant to the task is to approach the coffee with ruthless unintelligence; to turn what might have been a revered domain into something completely devoid of worth. If the cup is exchangeable in the activity, then so are you.

These are not questions you can answer in the abstract. You need to try it out and see. If it is the warmth of the coffee on a winter's day that you like, then drinking it in a cozy corner of the house, perhaps by a fire with a blanket, in a cup that transmits the warmth to your hands might well help to bring out the best in this ritual. But there is no single answer to the question of what makes the ritual appealing, and it takes experimentation and observation, with its risks and rewards, to discover the meaningful distinctions yourself. This experimentation with and observation of the coffee ultimately develops in you the skill for seeing the relevant features of the ritual and ultimately develops the skills for bringing them out at their best. These skills are manifold: the skill for knowing how to pick exactly the right coffee, exactly the right cup, exactly the right place to drink it, and to cultivate exactly the right companions to drink it with. When one has learned these skills and cultivated one's environment so that it is precisely suited to them, then one has a ritual rather than a routine, a meaningful celebration of oneself and one's environment rather than a generic and meaningless performance of a function."

Hubert Dreyfus, All Things Shining

(Claudio Missagia, Caffee 

"Because you were the shooter and the witness both and you can separate these roles. The second was helpless to prevent the first from acting. The second could not stop the act, could not manage it and finally did not know how to perceive it. It was too down deep even as it reached his eyes, your eyes. The terrible spasticky thing, the whole groanlike abandon, the resignation of life and breath to this vehement depth of gesture, man and chair going different ways.

 Dr. Lindblad might have said, 'The gesture is extreme because the mind is closing down. It's the end of consciousness. So the body goes berserk. The body shows you what's happening to the mind. The way a person's grief bends the body. This is how consciousness looks. This is how it flails and thrashes when the end is sudden and violent and the mind is unprepared.'"

Don DeLillo, Underworld

(Vincent Van Gogh's Skull of a Skeleton With A Burning Cigarette

“For life is the best thing we have in this existence. And if we should desire to believe in something, it should be a beacon within. This beacon being the sun, sea, and sky, our children, our work, our companions and, most simply put, the embodiment of love.”

Patti Smith, Just Kids

Edward Hopper, Lighthouse Hill

“Beauty spins and the mind moves. To catch beauty would be to understand how that impertinent stability in vertigo is possible. But no, delight need not reach so far. To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope."

Anne Carson, preface to Eros the Bittersweet

 Gary Ruddell, Realist and Dreamer

“It doesn’t matter how sensitive you are or how damn smart and educated you are, if you’re not both at the same time, if your heart and your brain aren’t connected, aren’t working together harmoniously, well, you’re just hopping through life on one leg. You may think you’re walking, you may think you’re running a damn marathon, but you’re only on a hop trip. The connections gotta be maintained.”

Tom Robbins, Villa Ingonito

Jack Vettriano, Dance Me to the End of Love

"We dance round in a ring and suppose,

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows."

Robert Frost, "The Secret Sits"

(Hilma af Klint's Primordial Chaos No. 16, group)

"I had now reached that phase of the disorder where all sense of hope  had vanished, along with the idea of a futurity; my brain, in thrall to  its outlaw hormones, had become less an organ of thought than an  instrument registering, minute by minute, varying degrees of its own  suffering. The mornings themselves were becoming bad now as I wandered  about lethargic, following my synthetic sleep, but afternoons were  still the worst, beginning at about three o'clock, when I'd feel the  horror, like some poisonous fog bank roll in upon my mind, forcing me into bed."

William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

(Claudio Missagia's Senza Titolo)

“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place. Nothing outside you can give you any place. You needn't look at the sky because it's not going to open up and show no place behind it. You needn't to search for any hole in the ground to look through into somewhere else. You can't go neither forwards nor backwards into your daddy's time nor your children's if you have them. In yourself right now is all the place you've got. If there was any Fall, look there, if there was any Redemption, look there, and if you expect any Judgment, look there, because they all three will have to be in your time and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?”

Flannery O'Conner, Wise Blood

(Bill Bate, Morphosis)

"But what is the philosophy of this generation? Not God is dead, that point was passed long ago. Perhaps it should be stated Death is God. This generation thinks – and this is its thought of thoughts – that nothing faithful, vulnerable, fragile can be durable or have any true power. Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for a dropping light bulb. The brittle shell of glass loses its tiny vacuum with a burst, and that is that. And this is how we teach metaphysics on each other. You think history is the history of loving hearts? You fool! Look at these millions of dead. Can you pity them, feel for them? You can nothing! There were too many. We burned them to ashes, we buried them with bulldozers. History is the history of cruelty, not love as soft men think."

Saul Bellow, Herzog

(Zdzisław Beksiński, Untitled)

"Why did he love storms, what was the meaning of his excitement when the door sprang open and the rain wind fled rudely up the stairs, why had the simple task, of shutting the windows of an old house seemed fitting and urgent, why did the first watery notes of a storm wind have for him the unmistakable sound of good news, cheer, glad tidings?”

John Cheever, The Swimmer

(Andrew Wyeth's Day of the Fair)

"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again—and you with it, speck of dust!'— Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine!' If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you; the question in each and every thing, 'Do you desire this once more, and innumerable times more?' would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?" 

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

(Mel Brigg's Bushfires)

“But for the present I would lie there and know I didn't have to get up, and feel the holy emptiness and blessed fatigue of a saint after the dark night of the soul. For God and Nothing have a lot in common. You look either one of Them straight in the eye for a second and the immediate effect on the human constitution is the same.” 

Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men

(Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater's "Definite Affection”)

“A sad fact, of course, about adult life is that you see the very things you'll never adapt to coming toward you on the horizon. You see them as the problems they are, you worry like hell about them, you make provisions, take precautions, fashion adjustments; you tell yourself you'll have to change your way of doing things. Only you don't. You can't. Somehow it's already too late. And maybe it's even worse than that: maybe the thing you see coming from far away is not the real thing, the thing that scares you, but its aftermath. And what you've feared will happen has already taken place. This is similar in spirit to the realization that all the great new advances of medical science will have no benefit for us at all, thought we cheer them on, hope a vaccine might be ready in time, think things could still get better. Only it's too late there too. And in that very way our life gets over before we know it. We miss it. And like the poet said: 'The ways we miss our lives are life.'”

Richard Ford, Indepedence Day

(James B. Longacre's Flower GIrl)

"And if you ever were ill, as I am now, then you know what kind of sun there is or may be in the morning; you know that pinkish, lucid, warm gold; the air itself looks a little pinkish; everything seems permeated by the tender blood of the sun; everything is alive; the stones seem soft and living, iron living and warm, people full of life and smiles. Perhaps in a short while all this will disappear, in an hour the pinkish blood of the sun will be drained out; but in the meantime everything is alive.”

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We

(Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis' Allegro - Sonata of the Sun)

"My mother's suffering grew into a symbol in my mind, gathering to itself all the poverty, the ignorance, the helplessness; the painful, baffling, hunger-ridden days and hours; the restless moving, the futile seeking, the uncertainty, the fear, the dread; the meaningless pain and the endless suffering. Her life set the emotional tone of my life, colored the men and women I was to meet in the future, conditioned my relation to events that had not yet happened, determined my attitude to situations and circumstances I had yet to face. A somberness of spirit that I was never to lose settled over me during the slow years of my mother's unrelieved suffering, a somberness that was to make me stand apart and look upon excessive joy with suspicion, that was to make me keep forever on the move, as though to escape a nameless fate seeking to overtake me. 

At the age of twelve, before I had one year of formal schooling, I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase, a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay, a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone, a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter, a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering." 

Richard Wright, Black Boy

(Almeida Júnior's Saudade)

"'You told me once that a soul isn't something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love. And you did that with more dedication than most, that work of building a soul-not for your own benefit but for the benefit of those that knew you.

'Which is partly why your death is so hard for us. It's hard to accept that a soul like yours, which took a lifetime to build, could cease to exist. It makes us angry, furious at the universe, not to have you here.

'But of course your soul does exist, Guert, because you gave of it so unstintingly. It exists in your book, and in this school, and also in each of is. For that we'll always be grateful.’”

Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

(Odilon Redon's Reflection

"The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible forces, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instill faith in hours of despair. Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need -- of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy with ourselves. And so, when their day is over, when their good and their evil have become eternal by the immortality of the past, be it ours to feel that, where they suffered, where they failed, no deed of ours was the cause; but wherever a spark of the divine fire kindled in their hearts, we were ready with encouragement, with sympathy, with brave words in which high courage glowed." 

Bertrand Russell, A Free Man's Worship

(Mel Brigg's Escaping the Fires)

"The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12 foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless. "

Alan Moore, via The Mindscape of Alan Moore

(Winslow Homer's The Fog Warning)  

"The Christmas holidays in Santa Teresa were celebrated in the usual fashion. There were posadas, pinatas were smashed, tequila and beer were drunk. Even on the poorest streets people could be heard laughing. Some of these streets were completely dark, like black holes, and the laughter that came from who knows where was the only sign, the only beacon that kept residents and strangers from getting lost."

Roberto Bolaño, 2666 

(Jeremy Mann's Back Alleys, New York)

"The meaning of his symbolism is that no matter what men pretend, they are only one accidental bite away from utter fallibility. The artist disguises the incongruity that is the pulse-beat of madness but he is aware of it. What would the average man do with a full consciousness of absurdity? He has fashioned his character for the precise purpose of putting it between himself and the facts of life; it is his special tour-de-force that allows him to ignore incongruities, to nourish himself on impossibilities, to thrive on blindness. He accomplishes thereby a peculiarly human victory: the ability to be smug about terror. He wants to be a god with only the equipment of an animal, and so he thrives on fantasies. Man uses his ideas for the defense of his existence, to frighten away reality. This is a serious game, the defense of one's existence—how take it away from people and leave them joyous?"

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

(Salvador Dali's Muchacha en la Ventana)

"But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink?"

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

(Kazimir Malevich's White on White)

“He experienced a familiar comfort being in the presence of another person’s unknowable pain. More than any landscape, this place felt like home.”

Adam Haslett, You Are Not a Stranger Here

(Félix Vallotton's Bathing)

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

(Francis Bacon's Head III)

“Take stock of those around you and you will … hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the the matter. But start to analyse those ideas and you will find that they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality, of his own very life. For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality, and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his ‘ideas' are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.” 

José Ortega y Gasset

(Giovanni Segantini's The Bad Mothers)

"If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms —if you find yourself at a loss for what do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body—it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up: all artifacts of ancient gestures. Holding hands, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood."

Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

(John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo)

"I believe that if I attempted to put the strain of the Supernatural on it it would fail deplorably and exhibit an unlovely gap. But I could never have attempted such a thing, because all my moral and intellectual being is penetrated by an invincible conviction that whatever falls under the dominion of our senses must be in nature and, however exceptional, cannot differ in its essence from all the other effects of the visible and tangible world of which we are a self-conscious part. The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is; marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No, I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvellous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural, which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity."

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

(Mikalojus Čiurlionis' Night)

"The cries of the crowd came to me like big heartbeats, full of sorrows. Lovely formal-sounding waves, with their distant, almost inhuman assent and lamentation.

This was what I wanted, this was what I thought I had to pay attention to, this was how I wanted my life to be."

Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

(Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World)

"Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace."

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost

(Gustave Caillebotte's The Nap)

"Given its volume and intensity, given, especially, the fatigue of those who oppose it, Evil today may be regarded not as an ethical category but as a physical phenomenon no longer measured in particles but mapped geographically. Therefore the reason I am talking to you about all this has nothing to do with your being young, fresh, and facing a clean slate. No, the slate is dark with dirt and it’s hard to believe in either your ability or your will to clean it. The purpose of my talk is simply to suggest to you a mode of resistance which may come in handy to you one day; a mode that may help you to emerge from the encounter with Evil perhaps less soiled if not necessarily more triumphant than your precursors. What I have in mind, of course, is the famous business of turning the other cheek.

... Quoted in full, these verses have in fact very little to do with nonviolent or passive resistance, with the principles of not responding in kind and returning good for evil. The meaning of these lines is anything but passive for it suggests that evil can be made absurd through excess; it suggests rendering evil absurd through dwarfing its demands with the volume of your compliance, which devalues the harm. This sort of thing puts a victim into a very active position, into the position of a mental aggressor. The victory that is possible here is not a moral but an existential one. The other cheek here sets in motion not the enemy’s sense of guilt (which he is perfectly capable of quelling) but exposes his senses and faculties to the meaninglessness of the whole enterprise: the way every form of mass production does.

... What perhaps relieves one from a charge of treason or, worse still, of projecting the tactical status quo into the future, is the hope that the victim will always be more inventive, more original in his thinking, more enterprising than the villain. Hence the chance that the victim may triumph."

Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One 

(Caravaggio's David con la testa di Golia

“When a person is born, he can embark on only one of three roads of life: if you go right, the wolves will eat you; if you go left, you’ll eat the wolves; if you go straight, you’ll eat yourself.”

Anton Chekhov, Fatherless

(Gary Ruddell's Reckless Dreamer)

"Generally speaking, colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul."

Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art

(Wassily Kandinsky's Colored Sticks)

"It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don't spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness…”

James Joyce, Ulysses 

(Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis’ News)

"What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing?" 

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

(Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night over the Rhone)

"What many people seem to be missing is the positive side of these truths. Seeing through the illusion of free will does not undercut the reality of love, for example—because loving other people is not a matter of fixating on the underlying causes of their behavior. Rather, it is a matter of caring about them as people and enjoying their company.

True hatred requires that we view our enemy as the ultimate author of his thoughts and actions. Love demands only that we care about our friends and find happiness in their company. It may be hard to see this truth at first, but I encourage everyone to keep looking. It is one of the more beautiful asymmetries to be found anywhere."

Sam Harris, "Free Will and the Reality of Love"

(Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret's The Spectators)

“It's a razor's edge kind of innocence, which relies on a willingness to be duped for the sake of transcending ordinary experience, for the sake of astonishment.”

Maud Casey, The Man Who Walked Away

(Mark Tansey's Bricoleurs)

"The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the 'I' out of the experience. We pretend that we are amoebas, and try to protect ourselves from life by splitting in two. Sanity, wholeness, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate 'I' or mind can be found. 

To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, 'I am listening to this music,' you are not listening."

Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity

(Genaro Lahuerta's Valencia)

“Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper. There is nothing we can do to dispose of that. No, loneliness shouldn’t surprise us, as astonishing to experience as it may be. You can try yourself inside out, but all you are then is inside out and lonely instead of inside in and lonely.”

Philip Roth, American Pastoral

(Claudio Missagia's Comme les enfants)

“The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

(Félix Vallotton's Sunset)

"The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid."

George Orwell, Reflections on Gandhi

(Zdzisław Beksiński, Untitled)

“For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

Charles Bukowski, "The Meaning of Life: The Big Picture", Life Magazine (December 1988)

(Max Slevogt's Dance of Death)

"The loneliest people are the kindest, 

The saddest people smile the brightest. 

The most damaged people are the wisest. 

All because they do not wish to see anyone 

else suffer the way they do."

Unknown 

(Simon Riley's B)

So much of what we live goes on inside–
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.

Dana Gioia, Unsaid

(John Singer Sargent's Street in Venice)

Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.”

Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You 

(Edward Moran's Life Saving Patrol)

"All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why." 

James Thurber, The Shore and the Sea

(Andrew Wyeth’s Winter)

“The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man's mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.”

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian 

(Zdzisław Beksiński, Uniitled)

"Meanness, the very thing which is unforgivable in human social life, in poetry is thrilling and valuable. Why? Because the willingness to be offensive sets free the ruthless observer in all of us, the spiteful perceptive angel who sees and tells, unimpeded by nicety or second thoughts. There is truth-telling, and more, in meanness. 

Nothing wakes us up like menace—Menace refreshes. 

Meanness clears the air of sanctimony, falsehood and denial, of our sentimental, ideological wishes about how things are alleged to be. Because it does not intend to forgive nor ask forgiveness, because it does not imagine reconciliation as an end, meanness has an advantage over other kinds of discourse. Free of the complex accommodations required by 'presenting a balanced view,' or Being Fair-Minded, opinion can fly with original, sometimes unerring force.

 At its most radical, meanness can even have the quality of metaphysical straight-talk. … view[ing] humanity from a chilly altitude, with great clarity but little charity. … In poetry, as in life, meanness almost always has a personal flavor, and perhaps it is even more admirable for its lack of detachment. The mean speaker is not retired from the battles of selfhood, removed to some philosophical resort where experience can be codified in tranquility. She or he is still down in the dirty human valley, fighting it out with the rest of us. In that way, the mean speaker may possess more convincing credentials than a kind or wise one.” 

Tony Hoagland, adapted from Negative Capability: How to Talk Mean and Influence People

(Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled - Skull)

"It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder.'"

Aldous Huxley (as quoted in "What About the Big Stuff?" by Richard Carlson) 

(Daniel Ablitt's Moonlight Ribbons

"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” 

Carl Sagan, Contact

(George Wesley Bellows' Summer Night, Riverside Drive)

"There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the wolf cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back in to the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, this it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move."

Jack London, Call to the Wild

(Caspar David Friedrich'Wander Above the Sea and Fog)

"Acceptance of death was invented by those who tried to flee their fear of death. But without this fear, death is pointless. Death exists only in it and through it. Wisdom born out of a reconciliation with death is the most superficial attitude in front of finality. Even Montaigne was infected with this fear, for otherwise his proud acceptance of the inevitable is inexplicable.

Whoever conquers his fear of death believes himself to be immortal; whoever does not have this fear, is. Maybe beings in paradise also died, but not knowing dear they never had the opportunity to die. To fear is to die every minute. Those who do not know death are like the birds of the sky: they read their destiny in the azure."

Emil Cioran, Saints and Tears

(Lyonel Feininger's Bird Cloud)

"The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of it, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege."

Marilynne Robinson, "The Art of Fiction No. 198"

(Mel Brigg's Past Situations)

"For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.” 

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

(William Orpen's Nude Reading on the Seashore)

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

(Claude Monet’s The Sailing Boat, Evening Effect)

"I believe in pain.

I believe in despair.

I believe in all children.

I believe in maps, diagrams, codes, chess-games, puzzles, airline timetables, airport indicator signs.

I believe all excuses.

I believe all reasons.

I believe all hallucinations.

I believe all anger.

I believe all mythologies, memories, lies, fantasies, evasions.

I believe in the mystery and melancholy of a hand, in the kindness of trees, in the wisdom of light."

J.G. Ballard, What I Believe 

(Nicola Samorì's La Candela per Far Luce Deve Consumarsi)

“To refrain from storytelling is perhaps one of the highest forms of respect we can pay. Those people, with no stories to circle them, can die without being misunderstood.” 

Ben Marcus, The Flame Alphabet

(Carl Larsson's Harvesting Ice)

“The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” 

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

(August Wilhelm Nikolaus Hagborg's Daydreaming on the Beach)

"What is Life? 

(1) Tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

(2) Dictionary definition in biology (chemical process within organic entities involving metabolism etc.) 

(3) Mrs Woolf: ‘Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.’ 

(4) Series of actual and hypothetical behavioural data which differ in certain assignable ways from data defining dead or inanimate entities. 

(5) That which the Lord infused into Adam. See Genesis 1. 4 [sc. 2. 7]. 

Which? 

Mental Cramp."

Isaiah Berlin, Berkeley’s External World

(Gary Ruddell's Girl With Hoop)

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

(George Richmond, Self-portrait)

"Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation – the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the 'impossible,' come true."

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

(Caspar David Friedrich's Schwaene Im Schilf)

"They felt, as we do, that death is not only natural, but also unnatural. Something in us rebels against death wherever it appears. We rebel at the sight of a corpse, we rebel against the death of children, of young people, of men and women in their strength. We even feel a tragic element in the passing of old people, with their experience, wisdom, and irreplaceable individuality. We rebel against our own end, against its definitive, inescapable character. We would not rebel if death were simply natural, as we do not rebel against the falling of the leaves. We accept their falling, although we do so with melancholy. But we do not accept man's death in the same way. We rebel; and since our rebellion is useless, we become resigned. Between rebellion against death and resignation to death we oscillate, demonstrating by both attitudes that it is not natural for us to die.” 

Paul Tillich, On the Transitoriness of Life 

(Andrew Wyeth’s Sycamore)

“And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of colour across the sky - so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.”

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

(Jean-François Millet's Hunting Birds at Night)

Sometimes when

I take you into my body

I can almost see them — patient, circling.

Almost glimpse the moving shadow of the tail,

almost hear the hushed pad of retracted claws.

It is the moment — of this I am certain —

when they themselves are least sure.

It is the moment they could almost let us go free.

Jane Hirshfield, "Each Happiness Ringed by Lions"

(Briton Riviere's R.A. - Syria, The Night Watch)

“He used to say that he never felt the hardness of the human struggle or the sadness of history as he felt it among those ruins. He used to say, too, that it made one feel an obligation to do one's best.” 

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark

(Luc Tuymans' De Transformatie Van de Berg)

"Love is an abstract noun, something nebulous. And yet love turns out to be the only part of us that is solid, as the world turns upside down and the screen goes black. We can’t tell if it will survive us. But we can be sure that it’s the last thing to go."

Martin Amis, The Second Plane: 14 Responses to September 11

(Safet Zec's Olio su tela) 

"All had their rapture; their common feeling with death; something that stood them in stead. Thus I visited each of my friends in turn, trying, with fumbling fingers, to prise open their locked caskets. I went from one to the other holding my sorrow—no, not my sorrow but the incomprehensible nature of this our life—for their inspection. Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends, I to my own heart, I to seek among phrases and fragments something unbroken—I to whom there is not beauty enough in moon or tree; to whom the touch of one person with another is all, yet who cannot grasp even that, who am so imperfect, so weak, so unspeakably lonely. There I sat."

Virginia Woolf, The Waves

(Gary Ruddell’s Study for the Three Graces)

"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, 'Joy is greater than sorrow,' and others say, 'Nay, sorrow is the greater.'

But I say unto you, they are inseparable."

Kahlil Gibran, Joy and Sorrow

(Claudio Missagia's Pampelonne)

"A Truth thats told with bad intent                                                                                

Beats all the Lies you can invent

It is right it should be so

Man was made for Joy & Woe

And when this we rightly know

Thro the World we safely go

Joy & Woe are woven fine

A Clothing for the soul divine

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine"

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

(Lyonel Feininger's Lunar Web)

"That the imagination has not been unjustly ranked as supreme among the mental faculties, appears from the intense consciousness, on the part of the imaginative man, that the faculty in question brings his soul often to a glimpse of things supernal and eternal — to the very verge of the great secrets. There are moments, indeed, in which he perceives the faint perfumes, and hears the melodies of a happier world. Some of the most profound knowledge — perhaps all very profound knowledge — has originated from a highly stimulated imagination. Great intellects guess well."

Edgar Allan Poe, Chapter of Suggestions

(Gary Ruddell's First Study for Leap of Faith)

“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” 

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

(Zdzisław Beksiński, Untitled)

"Is it not the singularity of life that terrifies us? Is not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance? Shakespeare over and over demonstrates life’s singularity — the irrevocability of our decisions, hasty and even mad though they be. How solemn and huge and deeply pathetic our life does loom in its once-and doneness, how inexorably linear, even though our rotating, revolving planet offers us the cycles of the day and of the year to suggest that existence is intrinsically cyclical, a playful spin, and that there will always be, tomorrow morning or the next, another chance."

John Updike, Self-Consciousness

(Tomás Sánchez's El Reto)

"The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. 1 In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.”

Edmund Burke, On the Sublime and Beautiful

(George Bellows’ Giant Sky)