❝ Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
— Anton Chekhov
“Well here it is,” the old man announced, his hair disheveled, his face inflamed by a preternatural exaltation, his eyes sparkling, and panting like a lovesick swain. “Aha! You weren’t expecting such perfection, were you? You’re in the presence of a woman, and you’re still looking for a picture. There’s such depth on this canvas, the air is so real you can no longer distinguish it from the air around yourselves. Where’s the art? Gone, vanished! Here’s true form - the very form of a girl. Haven’t I captured the color, the energy of the line that seems to bound her body? Isn’t this just the phenomenon presented by objects that live in air as fish live in water? Notice how the contours are silhouetted against the background! That back! Doesn’t it look as if you could run your hand down that? It took me seven years’ study to achieve such effects, the conjugation of objects with daylight! And that hair! You see how the light glows through it… You see that breast? Ah! Who could fail to worship her on his knees? The flesh throbs, she’s about to stand up, wait a moment…”
“Do you see anything?” Poussin whispered to Porbus.
“No. Do you?”
— The Unknown Masterpiece, Honoré de Balzac
❝ In the empty mountains
The leaves of the bamboo grass
Rustle in the wind.
I think of a girl
Who is not here.
— Kakinomoto No Hitomaro
❝ Historical imagination is a difficult thing to develop, and I’m not surprised that people shrink from trying to do it. But I’m always terrified when I hear the word “relevance” applied to education, because I can never forget that it was one of the jargon terms of the Nazis, and particularly the Nazi youth, around 1933 to 1934. That is, the professors around the universities that were being shouted down and hounded out of the place because they didn’t like Hitler were the people who didn’t understand the relevance of everything that was being studied to the Nazi movement. With any great writer like Chaucer there are two relations, or rather two centres of gravity. There is, in the first place, his relation to his own time, and there is, in the second place, the communicating power by which he reaches us. It’s the communicating power of Chaucer or Shakespeare, the way they can speak to us across all these centuries, that makes them immediately relevant. But the study of what they meant in their own time introduces us to ways of thinking that are unfamiliar, ways which expand our own habits and our own attitudes. Consequently, it’s the irrelevant side of them that’s the really liberal and emancipating side.
— Northrop Frye
❝ I suppose the best answer to your question about nature is the time when Helen died in Australia, Jane [Widdicombe] pulled the curtains aside so I could look at the sea and palm trees, and I said, ‘Nature doesn’t care how I feel. Close them.’
— Northrop Frye
❝ The fundamental act of criticism is a disinterested response to a work of literature in which all one’s beliefs, engagements, commitments, prejudices, stampedings of pity and terror, are ordered to be quiet. We are now dealing with the imaginative, not the existential, with the “let this be,” not with “this is,” and no work of literature is better by virtue of what it says than any other work.
— Northrop Frye
There is a story about two little girls who had never seen a theatre, or a performance, or even a rehearsal, and yet they played a tragedy with the most vicious and trivial clichés…
You could say to any one of us, “Play for me immediately, without any preparation, a savage in general.” I am willing to wager that the majority would do just what you did; because tearing around, roaring showing your teeth, rolling the whites of your eyes, has from time immemorial been intertwined in your imagination with a false idea of a savage. All these methods of portraying feelings in general exist in every one of us. And they are used without any relation to the why, wherefore or circumstances in which a person has experienced them.
Whereas mechanical acting makes use of worked-out stencils to replace real feelings, over-acting uses them without even sharpening or preparing them for the stage…
An artistic truth is hard to draw out, but it never palls. It becomes more pleasing, penetrates more deeply, all the time, until it embraces the whole being of an artist, and of his spectators as well.
A role which is built on truth will grow, whereas one built on stereotype will shrivel.
The conventions that you found soon wore out. They were not able to continue to excite you, as they had the first time, when you mistook them for inspiration.
— An Actor Prepares, Konstantin Stanislavski
❝ And then I looked at the stars, and considered how awful it would be for a man to turn his face up to them as he froze to death, and see no help or pity in all the glittering multitude.
— Great Expectations
❝ Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.
— Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices, 1996. (via 9th)
❝ Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belaboured by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon.
— The Wall and the Books, Jorge Luis Borges
❝ Gibbon observes that in the Arabian book par excellence, in the Koran, there are no camels; I believe if there were any doubt as to the authenticity of the Koran, this absence of camels would be sufficient to prove it is an Arabian work. It was written by Mohammed, and Mohammed, as an Arab, had no reason to know that camels were especially Arabian; for him they were a part of reality, he had no reason to emphasise them; on the other hand, the first thing a falsifier, a tourist, an Arab nationalist would do is have a surfeit of camels, caravans of camels, on every page; but Mohammed, as an Arab, was unconcerned: he knew he could be an Arab without camels.
— The Argentine Writer and Tradition, Jorge Luis Borges
He abhorred the universe and would have liked to adore God; but God, for him, was less real than the abhorred universe. He deplored the fact that the firmament did not speak, and he compared our life with that of castaways on a desert island. He felt the incessant weight of the physical world, he experienced vertigo, fright and solitude, and he put his feelings into these words : “Nature is an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’…
It may be that universal history is the history of the different intonations given a handful of metaphors.
— The Fearful Sphere of Pascal, Jorge Luis Borges
❝ A man may be dexterous and able in explaining the grounds of his opinions, and yet may be a mere sophist, because he only sees one half of a subject. Another may feel the whole weight of a question, nothing relating to it may be lost upon him, and yet he may be able to give no account of the manner in which it affects him, or to drag his reasons from their silent lurking places.
— William Hazlitt
❝ Shakespeare had not been accustomed to write themes at school in favour of virtue or against vice. To this we owe the unaffected but healthy tone of his dramatic morality. If we wish to know the force of human genius, we should read Shakespeare. If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning, we may study his commentators.
— The Ignorance of The Learned, William Hazlitt
❝ It may be that universal history is the history of the different intonations given a handful of metaphors.
— Jorge Luis Borges (via human-voices)