Nick Black > Nick's Quotes

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  • #1
    Ludwig Wittgenstein
    “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

  • #2
    Clive James
    “The inevitable effect of a biographer's hindsight is to belittle the subject's foresight.”
    Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

  • #3
    “He was a big, rather clumsy man, with a substantial bay window that started in the middle of the chest. I should guess that he was less muscular than at first sight he looked. He had large staring blue eyes and a damp and pendulous lower lip. He didn't look in the least like an intellectual. Creative people of his abundant kind never do, of course, but all the talk of Rutherford looking like a farmer was unperceptive nonsense. His was really the kind of face and physique that often goes with great weight of character and gifts. It could easily have been the soma of a great writer. As he talked to his companions in the streets, his voice was three times as loud as any of theirs, and his accent was bizarre…. It was part of his nature that, stupendous as his work was, he should consider it 10 per cent more so. It was also part of his nature that, quite without acting, he should behave constantly as though he were 10 per cent larger than life. Worldly success? He loved every minute of it: flattery, titles, the company of the high official world...But there was that mysterious diffidence behind it all. He hated the faintest suspicion of being patronized, even when he was a world figure.

    Archbishop Lang was once tactless enough to suggest that he supposed a famous scientist had no time for reading. Rutherford immediately felt that he was being regarded as an ignorant roughneck. He produced a formidable list of his last month’s reading. Then, half innocently, half malevolently: "And what do you manage to read, your Grice?"

    I am afraid", said the Archbishop, somewhat out of his depth, "that a man in my position doesn't really have the leisure..."

    Ah yes, your Grice," said Rutherford in triumph, "it must be a dog's life! It must be a dog's life!”
    C.P. Snow

  • #4
    James Joyce
    “History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
    James Joyce, Ulysses

  • #5
    G.H. Hardy
    “There is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain.”
    G.H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology

  • #6
    G.H. Hardy
    “What is the proper justification of a mathematician’s life? My answers will be, for the most part, such as are expected from a mathematician: I think that it is worthwhile, that there is ample justification. But I should say at once that my defense of mathematics will be a defense of myself, and that my apology is bound to be to some extent egotistical. I should not think it worth while to apologize for my subject if I regarded myself as one of its failures. Some egotism of this sort is inevitable, and I do not feel that it really needs justification. Good work is no done by "humble" men. It is one of the first duties of a professor, for example, in any subject, to exaggerate a little both the importance of his subject and his own importance in it. A man who is always asking "Is what I do worth while?" and "Am I the right person to do it?" will always be ineffective himself and a discouragement to others. He must shut his eyes a little and think a little more of his subject and himself than they deserve. This is not too difficult: it is harder not to make his subject and himself ridiculous by shutting his eyes too tightly.”
    G.H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology

  • #7
    James Joyce
    “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”
    James Joyce, Ulysses

  • #8
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
    “How do people get to this clandestine Archipelago? Hour by hour planes fly there, ships steer their course there, and trains thunder off to it--but all with nary a mark on them to tell of their destination. And at ticket windows or at travel bureaus for Soviet or foreign tourists the employees would be astounded if you were to ask for a ticket to go there. They know nothing and they've never heard of the Archipelago as a whole or any one of its innumerable islands.

    Those who go to the Archipelago to administer it get there via the training schools of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

    Those who go there to be guards are conscripted via the military conscription centers.

    And those who, like you and me, dear reader, go there to die, must get there solely and compulsorily via arrest.

    Arrest! Need it be said that it is a breaking point in your life, a bolt of lightning which has scored a direct hit on you? That it is an unassimilable spiritual earthquake not every person can cope with, as a result of which people often slip into insanity?

    The Universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it. Each of us is a center of the Universe, and that Universe is shattered when they hiss at you: "You are under arrest."

    If you are arrested, can anything else remain unshattered by this cataclysm?

    But the darkened mind is incapable of embracing these dis­placements in our universe, and both the most sophisticated and the veriest simpleton among us, drawing on all life's experience,
    can gasp out only: "Me? What for?"

    And this is a question which, though repeated millions and
    millions of times before, has yet to receive an answer.

    Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somer­sault from one state into another.

    We have been happily borne—or perhaps have unhappily
    dragged our weary way—down the long and crooked streets of
    our lives, past all kinds of walls and fences made of rotting wood,
    rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings. We have never given
    a thought to what lies behind them. We have never tried to pene­trate them with our vision or our understanding. But there is
    where the Gulag country begins, right next to us, two yards away
    from us. In addition, we have failed to notice an enormous num­ber of closely fitted, well-disguised doors and gates in these
    fences. All those gates were prepared for us, every last one! And
    all of a sudden the fateful gate swings quickly open, and four
    white male hands, unaccustomed to physical labor but none­theless strong and tenacious, grab us by the leg, arm, collar, cap,
    ear, and drag us in like a sack, and the gate behind us, the gate to
    our past life, is slammed shut once and for all.

    That's all there is to it! You are arrested!

    And you'll find nothing better to respond with than a lamblike
    bleat: "Me? What for?"

    That's what arrest is: it's a blinding flash and a blow which
    shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into
    omnipotent actuality.

    That's all. And neither for the first hour nor for the first day
    will you be able to grasp anything else.”
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation V-VII

  • #9
    Italo Calvino
    “In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which are frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you...And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. ”
    Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

  • #10
    Primo Levi
    “...better not to do than to do, better to meditate than to act, better his astrophysics, the threshold of the Unkowable, than my chemistry, a mess compounded of stenches, explosions and small futile mysteries. I thought of another moral, more down to earth and concrete, and I believe that every militant chemist can confirm it: that one must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is almost he same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened_, the practically identica, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates, and all patchwork. the difference can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad's switch points; the chemist's trade consists in good part in being aware of these differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist's trade.”
    Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

  • #11
    George Orwell
    “All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.”
    George Orwell, Essays

  • #12
    James Joyce
    “INELUCTABLE MODALITY OF THE VISIBLE: AT LEAST THAT IF NO MORE, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

    Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o'er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Dominie Deasy kens them a'.

    Won't you come to Sandymount,
    Madeline the mare?

    Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching. No, agallop: deline the mare.

    Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see.

    See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.”
    James Joyce, Ulysses

  • #13
    James Joyce
    “You behold in me, Stephen said with grim displeasure, a horrible example of free thought.

    He walked on, waiting to be spoken to, trailing his ashplant by his side. Its ferrule followed lightly on the path, squealing at his heels. My familiar, after me, calling, Steeeeeeeeeeeephen! A wavering line along the path. They will walk on it tonight, coming here in the dark. He wants that key. It is mine. I paid the rent. Now I eat his salt bread. Give him the key too. All. He will ask for it. That was in his eyes.

    --After all, Haines began ...

    Stephen turned and saw that the cold gaze which had measured him was not all unkind.

    --After all, I should think you are able to free yourself. You are your own master, it seems to me.

    --I am a servant of two masters, Stephen said, an English and an Italian.

    --Italian? Haines said.

    A crazy queen, old and jealous. Kneel down before me.

    --And a third, Stephen said, there is who wants me for odd jobs.

    --Italian? Haines said again. What do you mean?

    --The imperial British state, Stephen answered, his colour rising, and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church.

    --I can quite understand that, he said calmly. An Irishman must think like that, I daresay. We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly. It seems history is to blame.

    The proud potent titles clanged over Stephen's memory the triumph of their brazen bells: ET UNAM SANCTAM CATHOLICAM ET APOSTOLICAM ECCLESIAM: the slow growth and change of rite and dogma like his own rare thoughts, a chemistry of stars.”
    James Joyce

  • #14
    “I did not write this work merely with the aim of setting the exegetical record straight. My larger target is those contemporaries who -- in repeated acts of wish-fulfillment -- have appropriated conclusions from the philosophy of science and put them to work in aid of a variety of social cum political causes for which those conclusions are ill adapted. Feminists, religious apologists (including "creation scientists"), counterculturalists, neoconservatives, and a host of other curious fellow-travelers have claimed to find crucial grist for their mills in, for instance, the avowed incommensurability and underdetermination of scientific theories. The displacement of the idea that facts and evidence matter by the idea that everything boils down to subjective interests and perspectives is -- second only to American political campaigns -- the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time.”
    Larry Laudan, Science and Relativism: Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science

  • #15
    Thomas Pynchon
    “The rest of us, not chosen for enlightenment, left on the outside of Earth, at the mercy of a Gravity we have only begun to learn how to detect and measure, must go on blundering inside our front-brain faith in Kute Korrespondences, hoping that for each psi-synthetic taken from Earth's soul there is a molecule, secular, more or less ordinary and named, over here - kicking endlessly among the plastic trivia, finding in each Deeper Significance and trying to string them all together like terms of a power series hoping to zero in on the tremendous and secret Function whose name, like the permuted names of God, cannot be spoken... plastic saxophone reed sounds of unnatural timbre, shampoo bottle ego-image, Cracker Jack prize one-shot amusement, home appliance casing fairing for winds of cognition, baby bottles tranquilization, meat packages disguise of slaughter, dry-cleaning bags infant strangulation, garden hoses feeding endlessly the desert... but to bring them together, in their slick persistence and our preterition... to make sense out of, to find the meanest sharp sliver of truth in so much replication, so much waste... [Gravity's Rainbow, p. 590]”
    Thomas Pynchon

  • #16
    James Joyce
    “Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night, eh? I was young. You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. Hurray for the Goddamned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W. Remember your epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara. Pico della Mirandola like. Ay, very like a whale. When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once ...

    The grainy sand had gone from under his feet. His boots trod again a damp crackling mast, razorshells, squeaking pebbles, that on the unnumbered pebbles beats, wood sieved by the shipworm, lost Armada. Unwholesome sandflats waited to suck his treading soles, breathing upward sewage breath, a pocket of seaweed smouldered in seafire under a midden of man's ashes. He coasted them, walking warily. A porterbottle stood up, stogged to its waist, in the cakey sand dough. A sentinel: isle of dreadful thirst. Broken hoops on the shore; at the land a maze of dark cunning nets; farther away chalkscrawled backdoors and on the higher beach a dryingline with two crucified shirts. Ringsend: wigwams of brown steersmen and master mariners. Human shells.

    He halted. I have passed the way to aunt Sara's. Am I not going there? Seems not.”
    James Joyce

  • #17
    William Gibson
    “What happened to your arm?" she asked me one night in the Gentleman Loser, the three of us drinking at a small table in a corner.

    Hang-gliding," I said, "accident."

    Hang-gliding over a wheatfield," said Bobby, "place called Kiev. Our Jack's just hanging there in the dark, under a Nightwing parafoil, with fifty kilos of radar jammed between his legs, and some Russian asshole accidentally burns his arm off with a laser."

    I don't remember how I changed the subject, but I did.

    I was still telling myself that it wasn't Rikki who getting to me, but what Bobby was doing with her. I'd known him for a long time, since the end of the war, and I knew he used women as counters in a game, Bobby Quine versus fortune, versus time and the night of cities. And Rikki had turned up just when he needed something to get him going, something to aim for. So he'd set her up as a symbol for everything he wanted and couldn't have, everything he'd had and couldn't keep.

    I didn't like having to listen to him tell me how much he loved her, and knowing he believed it only made it worse. He was a past master at the hard fall and the rapid recovery, and I'd seen it happen a dozen times before. He might as well have had next printed across his sunglasses in green Day-Glo capitals, ready to flash out at the first interesting face that flowed past the tables in the Gentleman Loser.

    I knew what he did to them. He turned them into emblems, sigils on the map of his hustler' s life, navigation beacons he could follow through a sea of bars and neon. What else did he have to steer by? He didn't love money, in and of itself , not enough to follow its lights. He wouldn't work for power over other people; he hated the responsibility it brings. He had some basic pride in his skill, but that was never enough to keep him pushing.

    So he made do with women.

    When Rikki showed up, he needed one in the worst way. He was fading fast, and smart money was already whispering that the edge was off his game. He needed that one big score, and soon, because he didn't know any other kind of life, and all his clocks were set for hustler's time, calibrated in risk and adrenaline and that supernal dawn calm that comes when every move's proved right and a sweet lump of someone else's credit clicks into your own account.”
    William Gibson, Burning Chrome

  • #18
    William Gibson

    Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

    Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta...”
    William Gibson

  • #19
    Jonathan Littell
    “I have remained someone who believes that the only things indispensable to human life are air, food, drink and excretion, and the search for truth. The rest is optional.”
    Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones

  • #20
    Jonathan Littell
    “So what's the most atrocious thing you've seen?" He waved his hand: "Man, of course!”
    Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones

  • #21
    Ludwig Wittgenstein
    “Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.”
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

  • #22
    Ludwig Wittgenstein
    “For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed.

    The riddle does not exist.

    If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.”
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

  • #23
    G.H. Hardy
    “A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”
    G.H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology

  • #24
    W.B. Yeats
    “Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
    W.B. Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds

  • #25
    Kurt Vonnegut
    “The waitress brought me another drink. She wanted to light my hurricane lamp again. I wouldn't let her.
    "Can you see anything in the dark, with your sunglasses on?" she asked me.
    "The big show is inside my head," I said.”
    Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

  • #26
    Kurt Vonnegut
    “Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”
    Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

  • #27
    Kurt Vonnegut
    “Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
    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 racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents 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 anybody ever again.
    The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.”
    Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

  • #28
    Thomas Pynchon
    “She had heard all about excluded middles ; they were bad shit, to be avoided...”
    Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

  • #29
    G.H. Hardy
    “Immortality is often ridiculous or cruel: few of us would have chosen to be Og or Ananias or Gallio. Even in mathematics, history sometimes plays strange tricks; Rolle figures in the textbooks of elementary calculus as if he had been a mathematician like Newton; Farey is immortal because he failed to understand a theorem which Haros had proved perfectly fourteen years before; the names of five worthy Norwegians still stand in Abel’s Life, just for one act of conscientious imbecility, dutifully performed at the expense of their country’s greatest man. But on the whole the history of science is fair, and this is particularly true in mathematics. No other subject has such clear-cut or unanimously accepted standards, and the men who are remembered are almost always the men who merit it. Mathematical fame, if you have the cash to pay for it, is one of the soundest and steadiest of investments.”
    G.H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology

  • #30
    G.H. Hardy
    “I had better say something here about this question of age, since it is particularly important for mathematicians. No mathematician should ever allow himself to forget that mathematics, more than any other art or science, is a young man's game. To take a simple illustration at a comparatively humble level, the average age of election to the Royal Society is lowest in mathematics. We can naturally find much more striking illustrations. We may consider, for example, the career of a man who was certainly one of the world's three greatest mathematicians. Newton gave up mathematics at fifty, and had lost his enthusiasm long before; he had recognized no doubt by the time he was forty that his greatest creative days were over. His greatest idea of all, fluxions and the law of gravitation, came to him about 1666 , when he was twentyfour—'in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since'. He made big discoveries until he was nearly forty (the 'elliptic orbit' at thirty-seven), but after that he did little but polish and perfect.

    Galois died at twenty-one, Abel at twenty-seven, Ramanujan at thirty-three, Riemann at forty. There have been men who have done great work a good deal later; Gauss's great memoir on differential geometry was published when he was fifty (though he had had the fundamental ideas ten years before). I do not know an instance of a major mathematical advance initiated by a man past fifty. If a man of mature age loses interest in and abandons mathematics, the loss is not likely to be very serious either for mathematics or for himself.”
    G.H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology

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