Descent Into Hell
Kindle Notes & Highlights
Read between September 19 - December 12, 2016
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There was, in that latest poetry, no contention between the presences of life and of death; so little indeed that there had been a contention in the Sunday Times whether Stanhope were a pessimist or an optimist. He himself said, in reply to an interviewer’s question, that he was an optimist and hated it.
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Capacity which, in her nature, had reached the extreme of active life, seemed in him to have entered the contemplative, so much had his art become a thing of his soul. Where, in their own separate private affairs, he interfered so little as almost to seem inefficient, she was so efficient as almost to seem interfering.
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Then the plot was incredibly loose. it was of no particular time and no particular place, and to any cultured listener it seemed to have little bits of everything and everybody put in at odd moments.
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“I don’t see how goodness can be dreadful,” Miss Fox said, with a shade of resentment in her voice. “If things are good they’re not terrifying, are they?” “It was you who said ‘terribly’,"Stanhope reminded her with a smile, “I only agreed.” “And if things are terrifying,” Pauline put in, her eyes half closed and her head turned away as if she asked a casual question rather of the world than of him, “can they be good?”
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Still hankering after mass, Adela said, “It sounds to me more like undifferentiated sex force,” and ignored Hugh’s murmur, “There isn’t much fun in that.”
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From mere physical stress he whimpered a little now and then, but he did not change his purpose, nor did the universe invite him to change. It accepted the choice; no more preventing him than it prevents a child playing with fire or a fool destroying his love. It has not our kindness or our decency; if it is good, its goodness is of another kind than ours.
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He went up as if he mounted on the bones of his body built so carefully for this; he clambered through his skeleton to the place of his skull, and receded, as if almost in a corporeal ingression, to the place of propinquent death.
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There was nothing more to happen; everything had already happened except for one trifle which would be over soon.
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He had supposed he had wanted to die, and only at the last even he discovered that he wanted also not to die. Unreasonably and implacably, he wanted not to die. But also he wanted not to live, and the two rejections blurred his brain and shook his body.
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There had always been present to him, unrecognized but secure, man’s last hope, the possibility of death. It may be refused, but the refusal, even the unrecognized refusal, admits hope. Without the knowledge of his capacity of death, however much he fear it, man is desolate.
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he could not die. He did not yet know that it was because he was already dead. The dead man stood there, a vast dead silence about him and within him.
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With such bodies of past time the estate had no concern except to be silent about them, which it very successfully was.
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He was beginning to twist the intention of the sentences in his authorities, preferring strange meanings and awkward constructions, adjusting evidence, manipulating words. In defence of his conclusion he was willing to cheat in the evidence—a habit more usual to religious writers than to historical.
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her hesitation about the future had already become a regret for the past: the thing had been done.
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Rather like Pompey, he refused to take measures against the threat on the other side the Rubicon; he faintly admitted that there was a Rubicon, but certainly not that there might be a Caesar. He assumed that the Rome which had, he thought, admired him so much and so long, was still his, and he desired it to make his ownership clear.
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His brain properly reminded him that it meant nothing of the sort. But of that saving intelligence his now vibrating nervous system took no notice whatever. It had never had a chance to disseminate anarchy before, and now it took its chance. Fifty years of security dissolved before one minute of invasion; Caesar was over the Rubicon and Pompey was flying from Rome.
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The uneducated mind is generally known by its haste to see likeness where no likeness exists. It evaluates its emotions in terms of fortuitous circumstance. It objectifies its concerns through its imagination.
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He went out of the room, down the soft swift stairs of his mind, into the streets of his mind, to find the phantoms of his mind. He desired hell.
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Pauline said: “Can you change dreams, Mrs. Sammile?” “O, everyone can,” the other answered. She leant toward Pauline and went on: “There are all sorts of ways of changing dreams.” She put a hand on the girl’s. “All tales of the brain. Why not tell yourself a comforting tale?”
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There are tales that can give you yourself completely and the world could never treat you so badly then that you wouldn’t neglect it. One can get everything by listening or looking in the right way: there are all sorts of turns.”
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“What does one need to say poetry, Mr. Stanhope?” she asked. Stanhope laughed. “What but the four virtues, clarity, speed, humility, courage? Don’t you agree?”
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“I must go,” she said. “But I don’t see why you don’t enjoy yourselves.” “Because, sooner or later, there isn’t anything to enjoy in oneself,” Stanhope murmured, as she departed.
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But where superstition and religion failed, where cemeteries were no longer forbidden and no longer feared; where the convenient processes of cremation encouraged a pretence of swift passage, where easy sentimentality set up a pretence of friendship between the living and the dead—might not that new propinquity turn to a fearful friendship in the end?
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It was commonly accepted that the dead were anxious to help the living, but what if the dead were only anxious for the living to help them?
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Let them rest in their own places of light; far, far from us be their discipline and their endeavour. The phrases of the prayers of intercession throb with something other than charity for the departed; there is a fear for the living. Grant them, grant them rest; compel them to their rest. Enlighten them, perpetually enlighten them. And let us still enjoy our refuge from their intolerable knowledge.
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The best maxim towards that knowledge was yet not the Know thyself of the Greek so much as the Know Love of the Christian, though both in the end were one.
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The most perfect, since the most intimate and intelligent, art was pure love. The approach by love was the approach to fact; to love anything but fact was not love. Love was even more mathematical than poetry; it was the pure mathematics of the spirit. It was applied also and active; it was the means as it was the end. The end lived everlastingly in the means; the means eternally in the end.
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Ingress and regress, desire and repulsion, contended there.
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She had heard, in old tales of magic, of the guardian of the threshold. She wondered if the real secret of the terrible guardian were that he was simply lost on the threshold. His enmity to man and heaven was only his yearning to enter one without loss.
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Had she been woman she would not have known them; now that she was not woman alone but mountain, the mountain knew that it was not from its own nature alone that the tiny disturbances came. There was movement within it certainly; rush of streams, fall of rocks, roar of winds through its chasms, but these things were not sound to it as was that alien human step.
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She set herself to crawl out of that darkened corner towards the light.
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It grew in him, like all judgment, through his negligence. A thing of which he had consistently refused to be aware, if action is the test of awareness, drew close to him:
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“Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me”; the maxim applies to many stones of stumbling, and especially to all those of which the nature is the demand for a presence instead of the assent to an absence; the imposition of the self upon complacency.
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life and death, satisfaction of hate and satisfaction of lust, contending, and the single approach of the contention’s result—
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He knew they were laughing at him. He made normal noises, and abnormally fled. He went home.
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His intelligence warned him that she was, nevertheless, one of the natural forces which, like time and space, he could not overcome.
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There was presented to him at once and clearly an opportunity for joy —casual, accidental joy, but joy. If he could not manage joy, at least he might have managed the intention of joy, or (if that also were too much) an effort towards the intention of joy.
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He could enjoy; at least he could refuse not to enjoy. He could refuse and reject damnation. With a perfectly clear, if instantaneous, knowledge of what he did, he rejected joy instead. He instantaneously preferred anger, and at once it came; he invoked envy, and it obliged him.
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Till that moment he had never thought of such a thing. The possibility had been created and withdrawn simultaneously, leaving the present fact to mock him. The other possibility—of joy in that present fact—receded as fast. He had determined, then and for ever, for ever, for ever, that he would hate the fact, and therefore facts.
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The darkness was quiet; his heart ceased to burn, though he could hear its beating, in time with the lapping and lulling waters. He had never heard his heart beating so loudly; almost as if he were inside his own body, listening to it there. It would be louder then, he thought, unless his senses were lulled and dulled. Likely enough that if he were inside his own body his senses would be lulled, though how he got there or how he would get out... If he wanted to get out.
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He knew that there were hundreds of yards, or was it millions, of tubes or pipes or paths or ropes or something, coiled, many coils, in his body; he would not want to catch his foot in them or be twisted up in them; that was why the hand was leading him. He pressed it, for acknowledgment; it replied.
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he had come out of himself into a wood, unless he was himself and a wood at the same time. Could he be a wood? and yet walk in it? He looked at that question for a long time while he walked, and presently found he was not thinking of that but of something else;
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He liked going on, away, away, away, from somewhere behind, or indeed outside, outside the wood, outside the body, outside the door. The door wouldn’t open for anyone; it was his door, and though he hadn’t fastened it, it wouldn’t open, because it knew his wish, and his wish was to leave the two who had worried him outside the door.
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It was good for him to be here, and great fun; one day he would laugh, but laughter would be tiring here, under trees and leaves, leaves—leaves and eaves—eaves and eves; a word with two meanings, and again a word with two meanings, eves and Eves. Many Eves to many Adams; one Eve to one Adam; one Eve to each, one Eve to all. Eve ...
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He breathed on her hand, and it was turned into stone, so that she couldn’t carry it, but it sank to the ground, slowly, in that misty air, and she was held there, crying and sobbing, by the weight of her petrified hand.
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The whole air of this place was his breath; if he took a very deep breath, there would be no air left, outside himself. He could stand in a vacuum, and nothing outside himself could breathe at all, until he chose to breathe again; which perhaps he wouldn’t do, so that he could infinitely prevent anything at all from existing merely by infinitely holding his breath.
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Come along, come along: farther in, farther in down under, down under.”