June 28, 2008: Gibbon on History and early persecutions - 0 Comments

"History, which undertakes to record the transactions of the past, for the instruction of future ages, would ill deserve that honourable office if she condescended to plead the cause of tyrants, or to justify the maxims of persecution. It must, however, be acknowledged that the conduct of the emperors who appeared the least favourable to the primitive church is by no means so criminal as that of modern sovereigns who have employed the arm of violence and terror against the religious opinions of any part of their subjects."

- Gibbon, Decline & Fall vol II, 1781

June 25, 2008: Stevenson on an old pirate's piety - 0 Comments

"Now, for instance, you wouldn't think I had had a pious mother - to look at me? . . . but I had - remarkable pious. And I was a civil, pious boy, and could rattle off my catechism that fast, as you couldn't tell one word from another. And here's what it come to, Jim, and it begun with church-farthen on the blessed grave-stones! That's what it begun with, but it went further'n that, and so my mother told me, and predicked the whole, she did, the pious woman!"

- Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, 1883

June 23, 2008: Waugh on Hints and Symbols - 2 Comments

"Perhaps, I thought, while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke - a thought to fade and vanish like smoke without a trace - perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us."

- Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945

June 22, 2008: Waugh on Social Uneasiness - 0 Comments

"Even on that convivial evening I could feel my host emanating little magnetic waves of social uneasiness, creating, rather, a pool of general embarassment about himself in which he floated with loglike calm."

- Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945

June 21, 2008: Waugh on New York - 0 Comments

"We lay in our twin beds, a yard or two distant, smoking. I looked at my watch; it was four o'clock, but neither of us was ready to sleep, for in that city there is neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for energy."

- Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945

June 20, 2008: Waugh on modern education - 0 Comments

"But yesterday I got a regular eye-opener. The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what's been taught and what's been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn't know existed."

- Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945

June 19, 2008: Waugh describes a short vacation - 0 Comments

"The fortnight at Venice passed quickly and sweetly--perhaps too sweetly; I was drowning in honey, stingless."

- Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945

June 15, 2008: Waugh on Sebastian's Family - 0 Comments

"I'm not going to have you get mixed up with my family. They're so madly charming. All my life they've been taking things away from me. If they once got hold of you with their charm, they'd make you their friend, not mine, and I won't let them."

"'Light one for me, will you?'
It was the first time in my life that anyone had asked this of me, and as I took the cigarette from my lips and put it in hers, I caught a thin bat's squeak of sexuality, inaudible to any but me."

- Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945

June 10, 2008: Jiang Rong on the Rapacity of Man and Wolves - 0 Comments

The author of Wolf Totem writes with this extemely odd voice, as if all characters from the book are reading from the same set of stern lecture notes:

"At that moment he sensed how rapacious and vain humans can be. There would have been nothing wrong with picking the biggest and strongest of the seven cubs. So why had they brought the entire litter home? He should never have taken Dorji and Gao Jianzhong along. But would he have only brought one cub back with him if they hadn't been there? Probably not. Bringing back the whole liter represented conquest, courage, reward, and glory; it won him the respect of others. Compared to that, those seven lives were like grains of sand."

"Chen too felt his emotions rise. 'Seeing those pelts up there reminds me of the Turkish flags gilded with wolf heads that ancient horsemen carried into battle, galloping across the grassland, wolf blood coursing through their veins, filled with the courage, ferocity, and wisdom they'd learned from those very wolves, to become conquerors of the world.'
'You know,' Zhang said, 'I now share your view that the wolf is a very complex subject, one that touches on many important issues.'"

- Jian Rong, Wolf Totem, 2004

June 7, 2008: Dede Korkut on Death - 0 Comments

"When dark death comes, may he give you a fair passage."

- Dede Korkut (attributed), The Book of Dede Korkut, trans. Geoffrey Lewis, circa 1000.

June 6, 2008: Dede Korkut has some nice tricks - 0 Comments

The tenth-century Orghuz Turks have a nice version of "to make a long story short:"
"The horse's hoof is fleet as the wind; the minstrel's tongue is swift as a bird."

And Dede Korkut also has this nice trick. In the middle of the story, characters frequently break into verse - but just before the poetry starts, the narrative voice does this little move:
"He took the boy and went to the boy's father, to whom he declaimed; let us see, my Khan, what he declaimed. "

Isn't that nice? Let us see, my Khan. The poetry, so improbable in real life, was going to break the narrative flow anyway. And so DK does it for us, reflexively turning your attention to the notion of storytelling. The complimentary address to the reader as 'My Khan,' is good, too.

- Dede Korkut (attributed), The Book of Dede Korkut, trans. Geoffrey Lewis, circa 1000.