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Ethan Canin quotes Showing 1-27 of 27

“One of the hallmarks of our politics now is that we tend to elect those who can campaign over those who can lead;”
Ethan Canin, America America
“Dawkins once said that he opposed religion mainly because it taught us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“I've solved a problem that was thought to be unsolvable. . . . And I learned that only a small part of it is talent. The rest is determination. . . . The will is everything.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“Are there not a thousand forms of sorrow? Is the sorrow of death the same as the sorrow of knowing the pain in a child's future? What about the melancholy of music? Is it the same as the melancholy of a summer dusk? Is the loss I was feeling for my father the same I would have felt for a man better-fit to the world, a man who might have thrown a baseball with me or taken me out in the mornings to fish? Both we call grief. I don't think we have words for our feelings any more than we have words for our thoughts.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“An infant, in his first sleepiness, must let go of the world; a man must learn to die. What comes between are the grains of sand. Ambition. Loss. Envy. Desire. Hatred. Love. Tenderness. Joy. Shame. Loneliness. Ecstasy. Ache. Surrender.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“The forgotten of this country have a consistent history of turning on their champions, and I suppose the way working men and women have forsaken the very politicians who could help them most speaks of the primacy of emotion in politics. Perhaps the great decline of FDR's party, which was beginning in Henry Bonwiller's time, didn't come about because Democrats favored a logical argument over a moral one, but simply because they clung to the idea that either one mattered at all.”
Ethan Canin, America America
“Does one grow wise in increments? By fractioning a life and then summing it? By stacking sand? An infant, in his first sleepiness, must let go of the world; a man must learn to die. What comes between are the grains of sand. Ambition. Loss. Envy. Desire. Hatred. Love. Tenderness. Joy. Shame. Loneliness. Ecstasy. Ache. Surrender. Live long enough and you will solve them all.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“In people like us, the craving is as strong as the craving for food or water, the yearning for touch or light or love. I was looking for something--a diversion, an occupation, an unwavering force--that would elevate me, that would lift me out of the melancholy dissection of my own interior geography that otherwise would have consumed me pitilessly, as it had my father. I wanted to fly above myself-- if only for a few hours--and look down in tranquility upon my life.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“My father peed like a horse. His urine lowed in one great sweeping dream that started suddenly and stopped just as suddenly, a single, winking arc of shimmering clarity that endured for a prodigious interval and then disappeared in an instant, as though the outflow were a solid object—and arch of glittering ice or a thick band of silver—and not (as it actually approximated) a parabolic, dynamically averaged graph of the interesting functions of gravity, air resistance, and initial velocity on a non-viscous fluid, produced and exhibited by a man who’d just consumed more than a gallon of midwestern beer. The flow was as clear as water. When it struck the edge of the gravel shoulder, the sound was like a bed-sheet being ripped. Beneath this high reverberation, he let out a protracted appreciative whistle that culminated in a tunneled gasp, his lips flapping at the close like a trumpeters. In the tiny topsoil, a gap appeared, a wisp entirely unashamed. Bernie bumped about in the cargo bay. My father moved up close to peer through the windshield, zipping his trousers and smiling through the glass at my mother. I realized that the yellow that should have been in his urine was unmistakable now in his eyes.

‘’Thank goodness,’’ my mother said when the car door closed again. ‘’I was getting a little bored in here.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“People punch up,” he said. “They punch the ones who are better than them. Nobody likes a kid who does something well. That”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“It happens.” He turned again to the garden. “To the brain, I mean. It’s the drink, naturally. And the hepatic function. But there is clearly something else occurring, too. Certainly in other men I’ve seen it. There is something in certain abilities that is never far from—far from—” He looked out at the lake. “I cannot really know.” “No, please go on.” “Far from terror, perhaps. It is not such a rare phenomenon, you see. I used to encounter it around the maths division when I was at university, and I have seen it here, even, in my little country practice. It seems to be quite primal. At its crudest, it is a bona fide paranoia. Plenty in the field are gone before the age of twenty. I’ve seen that, too. Perhaps it is a harbinger. I believe it to be physiological.” He looked down. “I sometimes imagine it as God’s revenge.” “Against mathematicians?” “One must bear in mind that they might be considered spies.” He was smiling now. “By the Deity, you mean?” “Indeed. Your dad’s cantankerous nature, by the way—you know that this is his liver, too, don’t you? And of course the drink plays a part in it—but it is also the man himself. The emotions are ablaze in him.” He set down the bucket. “For people like you and me—well, we are shielded by all our damping circuitry. We maintain a cushion against the world, if you will. A comfort against the ravage. But I believe it is not so for him.” He regarded me. “Think of what life must be like for a mind like your father’s. I mean, human existence is bounded by tragedy, is it not? And shot through with it, as well. I was born in Lahore, so I know this in a particular way. But your father, too—he knows it just as particularly, in his own way. I have learned to keep such thoughts somewhat at bay. And so have you. But for him, there is no ignoring it. There is no joy in God’s creation. No pleasure in sunlight or water. No pleasure in a good meal. There is no pleasure in the company of friends. There is nothing. Nothing that might assuage the maw. He”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“As soon as we conform anything to language, we’ve changed it. Use a word and you’ve altered the world. The poets know this. It’s what they try so hard to avoid.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
tags: words
“In those days Cheboygan was already something of a resort town, although Milo didn’t realize this fact until he was older. For most of his childhood, he knew only the deep woods that ran behind their property—350 acres of sugar maple, beech, and evergreen that had managed to remain unlogged during the huge timber harvests that had denuded much of the rest of the state. He spent a good part of his days inside this forest. The soil there was padded with a layer of decaying leaves and needles whose scents mingled to form a cool spice in his nose. He didn’t notice the smell when he was in it so much as feel its absence when he wasn’t. School, home, any building he had to spend time in—they all left him with the feeling that something had been cleaned away.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“THERE WERE AT least two ways to solve any problem: from the beginning, which was the usual approach; and from the end, which was not. Likewise, every theorem could be proved either directly, using incremental logic, or indirectly, by conjecturing the negative of the hypothesis and demonstrating a contradiction. Thus there were at least four permutations to choose from.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“When he got out of the car to do his business, my mother stared straight ahead. But I turned to watch. There was always something wild and charismatically uncaring about my father’s demeanor in these moments, some mysterious abandonment of his frowning and cogitative state that already meant a lot to me, even though at that age I understood almost nothing about him. Paulie had long ago stopped whispering 'perv' to me for observing him as he relieved himself. She of course, kept her head n her novels.
I remember that it was cold that day, and windy but that the sky had been cut from the crackling blue gem field of a late midwestern April. Outside the car, as other families sped past my father stepped to the leeward side of the open door then leaning back from the waist and at the same time forward the ankles. His penis poked out from his zipper for this part, Bernie always stood up at the rear window. My father paused fo a moment rocking slightly while a few indistinct words played on his lips. Then just before his stream stared he tiled back his head as if there were a code written in the sky that allowed the event to begin. This was the moment I waited for, the movement seemed to be a marker of his own private devotion as though despite his unshakable atheism and despite his sour, entirely analytic approach to every affair of life, he nonetheless felt the need to acknowledge the heavens in the regard to this particular function of the body. I don't know perhaps I sensed that he simply enjoyed it in a deep way that I did. It was possible I already recognized that the eye narrowing depth of his physical delight in that moment was relative to that paucity of other delights in his life. But in any case the prayerful uplifting of his cranium always seemed to democratize him for me, to make him for a few minutes at least, a regular man. Bernie let out a bark.

‘’Is he done?’’ asked my mother.

I opened my window. ‘’Almost.’’

In fact he was still in the midst. My father peed like a horse. His urine lowed in one great sweeping dream that started suddenly and stopped just as suddenly, a single, winking arc of shimmering clarity that endured for a prodigious interval and then disappeared in an instant, as though the outflow were a solid object—and arch of glittering ice or a thick band of silver—and not (as it actually approximated) a parabolic, dynamically averaged graph of the interesting functions of gravity, air resistance, and initial velocity on a non-viscous fluid, produced and exhibited by a man who’d just consumed more than a gallon of midwestern beer. The flow was as clear as water. When it struck the edge of the gravel shoulder, the sound was like a bed-sheet being ripped. Beneath this high reverberation, he let out a protracted appreciative whistle that culminated in a tunneled gasp, his lips flapping at the close like a trumpeters. In the tiny topsoil, a gap appeared, a wisp entirely unashamed. Bernie bumped about in the cargo bay. My father moved up close to peer through the windshield, zipping his trousers and smiling through the glass at my mother. I realized that the yellow that should have been in his urine was unmistakable now in his eyes.

‘’Thank goodness,’’ my mother said when the car door closed again. ‘’I was getting a little bored in here.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“He was going to think about her and think about her until she disappeared.”
Ethan Canin
“Tycho Brahe clung to a lousy idea, Hans. That’s all it was. People like us—you must know this by now—we can’t do that. We know damn well when we’re right. We know a long time before anyone else even suspects it.” He cleared his throat. “Or when we’re wrong. That’s how we live. That’s how we die.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“Optimism is an attempt to circumvent the truth.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“The connectors have gained the upper hand. We isolationists languish in the caves. Take”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“There’s no answer that ends the search, you know. Obviously, there never will be. The artist seeks to capture the world because the nature of every single object is a mystery to him. The philosopher addresses human nature because he’s a stranger to every part of it. It”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“I didn’t answer. Mr. Dowater had a reputation for deadpan humor, a humor that was strangely similar to the low-level, sarcastic sniper fire offered by the school’s underbleacher population of stoners and class-cutters. It didn’t really pay to engage it. After”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“Happy isn't even a real idea," he said. "It's just like love. A reasonably skeptical person doesn't even know what it means.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“...Yet I somehow knew enough about him--because I somehow also knew enough about myself--to understand that his uncompleted thoughts were the lifeblood of his being. That was why I stayed away from those boxes. His thoughts were the ship on whose prow he stationed himself while the ice-strewn seas leaped and dived below. They were matters of calculatedly outrageous assumption, elephantine diligence, missilelike prophecy, and an unending, unruly wager regarding their eventual worth; they were going to be attacked with branching, incremental logic, andmet after months of toil--if not after years of it--by either the maniacal astonishment of discovery or by the shame-tipped dart of folly. The fact of all of this was like genetic information inside me. I knew it even as a teenager. I knew it even as a teenager on a substituted, entactogenic amphetamine. I had probably known it as a child. And I knew equally well that the risk of the toil he now began performing every day upstairs in his new office, despite the apparent risklessness of his quotidian life, might at any time overwhelm him, even more so in his fragile state. I knew that these mortal risks were hidden away each evening, that they were held at bay till the following afternoon by the cardboard tops that he placed over his boxes.

I understood, even at the age I was then, and even in my newly altered condition, that the work was to be hallowed.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“Is the sorrow of death the same as the sorrow of knowing the pain in a child’s future? What about the melancholy of music? Is it the same as the melancholy of a summer dusk? Is the loss I was feeling for my father the same I would have felt for a man better-fit to the world, a man who might have thrown a baseball with me or taken me out in the mornings to fish? Both we call grief. I don’t think we have words for our feelings any more than we have words for our thoughts.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“Once he was going, it was difficult to stop him. “Mathematics is like carving a wooden doll,” he said, “and then, one day, you watch as your wooden doll gives birth to another wooden doll.” These words have stayed with me all my life.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“Now she was smiling. “And while you’re at it,” she said, “here’s another one for you. Theodicy. That’s another word Leibniz used. As long as you have the dictionary out, you might as well look ’em both up.” She sipped her tea. “He wrote a whole book about it, as a matter of fact.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac
“A plane in mathematics is not merely a flat surface but a flat surface of infinite thinness and size. Trivial? Not to us. When I say plane, I'm not thinking of a tabletop or sheet of glass or a piece of paper. You might point to any one of these objects; but all of them are precisely that: objects. They exist in the world. And because they do, they are defined by their breadth and reach. To a mathematician, a tabletop is no more a plane than a slice of rum cake is. In the world we know, in fact, the only thing that can actually be called a plane--or a portion of one, anyhow--is a shadow.
You see?
Words fail us. Even the world fails us.
Are there not a thousand forms of sorrow? Is the sorrow of death the same as the sorrow of knowing the pain in a child's future? What about the melancholy of music? Is it the same as the melancholy of a summer dusk? Is the loss I was feeling for my father the same I would have felt for a man better-fit to the world who might have thrown a baseball with me or taken me out in the mornings to fish? Both we call grief. I don't think we have words for our feeling any more than we have words for our thoughts. I don't even believe that we actually do the things we call thinking and feeling. We do something, but it is only out of crudeness that we call it thinking; and when we do the other thing, we call it feeling. But I can tell you, if you asked Archimedes ... or Brahmagupta ... or Hilbert ... when they'd first known that they'd solved their great problem, I suspect they'd all say they had a feeling.”
Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac


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