What is a man,Hamlet, Act 4
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do;’
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
I mentioned in the previous post how much I struggled with Robert Walser’s novel yet how beautiful the writing was. With more thought, I’m not sure if “beautiful” is the best descriptor. The beauty is not in the prose itself but in the reaction it can draw from you. This book is written similar to a diary, somewhat stream-of-consciousness; the abrupt transition from thought to thought is part of its power. It’s a loveliness that sneaks up on you.
All that said, here are some moments I sticky-noted in my NYRB edition. Much credit to the translator, Christopher Middleton.
Nothing can excite me so deeply as the sight and smell of what is good and just. You soon reach the end of feeling about vulgar and evil things, but to get wise to something good and noble is so difficult, and yet also so alluring. (p. 23)
I hate the kind of person who pretends he understands everything and beamingly parades knowledge and wit. Sly and knowing people are to me an unspeakable abomination. (p. 41)
Seriously: people obeying orders usually look just like the people giving orders. (p. 58)
For some time past, the world has been revolving around money, not around history. All the ancient heroic virtues you unpack have lost their importance long ago, you know it yourself. (p. 60)
The masses are the slaves of today, and the individual is the slave of the vast mass-ideas . . . You must dream up beauty and goodness and justice. Tell me, do you know how to dream? (p. 69)
These are jokes, the world just likes jokes. I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, all this. I feel how little it concerns me, everything that’s called “the world,” and how grand and exciting what I privately call the world is to me. (p. 124)
To be robust means not spending time on thought but quickly and quietly entering into what has to be done. (p. 136)
Quick goodbyes are loveless, and long ones are unbearable (p. 142)
I am dying . . . of the emptiness of cautious and clever people . . . (p. 156)
As it happens, I used to collect quotes about courage, on my old Tumblr blog. Here’s a selection of them…
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.e.e. cummings
Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything. Nothing’s going to disappear just because you can’t see what’s going on. In fact, things will even be worse the next time you open your eyes. That’s the kind of world we live in. Keep your eyes wide open. Only a coward closes his eyes. Closing your eyes and plugging up your ears won’t make time stand still.Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
The best way out is always through.Robert Frost
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
The fear of God is the death of every other fear; like a mighty lion, it chases all other fears before it.Charles Spurgeon
From the true antagonist illimitable courage is transmitted to you.Franz Kafka, The Third Octavo Notebook
Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.C.S. Lewis
From the start the Traveler had had no doubts about the answer he must give. He had experienced too much in his life to be able to waver here. Basically he was honest and unafraid.Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony”
Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.Fyodor Dostoyevksy, The Brothers Karamazov
I’ve decided to share these quotes in the order they appear in the book, plus occasional commentary. All quotes are from the 2018 hardcover edition.
- plaintext – Worthy quotes
- bold – Favorite quotes
- italics – Quotes I disliked
12 Rules for Life: Best and Worst Quotes
The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism. It’s not communism, either, for that matter . . . We (the sovereign we, the we that has been around since the beginning of life) have lived in a dominance hierarchy for a long, long time. (p. 14) – Agreed, seems pretty self-evident.
. . . the familiar Western images of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and the Pietà both express the female/male dual unity, as does the traditional insistence on the androgyny of Christ. (p. 42) – “traditional insistence on the androgyny,” what is he talking about?
You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued. (p. 62)
. . . a villain who despairs of his villainy has not become a hero. A hero is something positive, not just the absence of evil. (p. 78) – Exactly!
. . . winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult. You might be winning, but you’re not growing, and growing might be the most important form of winning. (p. 88)
Ask yourself: is there one thing that exists in disarray in your life or your situation that you could, and would, set straight? Could you, and would you, fix that one thing that announces itself humbly in need of repair? (p. 94)
What would your life look like, if it were better? (p. 100)
The Old Testament Israelites and their forebears knew that God was not to be trifled with, and that whatever Hell the angry Deity might allow to be engendered if he was crossed was real. Having recently passed through a century defined by the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, we might realize the same thing. (p. 105) – This is a terrible example of conflating all evils with “judgment from God.” It’s not biblical (see Job). Granted, Peterson here is speaking of the “Old Testament God” as a concept, not necessarily as a real Person. But this kind of thing is what I meant by “repurposing the Bible” to fit a philosophy.
. . . if you look close enough, the biggest of lies is composed of smaller lies, and those are composed of still smaller lies – and the smallest of lies is where the big lie starts. (p. 228)
People think they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking . . . Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world. (p. 241)
The past is not necessarily what it was, even though it has already been. (p. 267) – On second reading, I’m not exactly sure this makes logical sense, but I get the gist of it, and it’s a hard truth.
Assume ignorance before malevolence. No one has a direct pipeline to your wants and needs – not even you. (p. 320) – Good advice for managing conflict.
When [boys] told off the teachers, they were pushing against the authority, to see if there was any real authority there – the kind that could be relied on, in principle, in a crisis. (p. 331) – Yeah, I’m not really buying that one. Backtalk is backtalk, let’s not romanticize it.
Maybe the environmental problem is ultimately spiritual. If we put ourselves in order, perhaps we will do the same for the world. (p. 364)