Autodidact: self-taught


Unquiet Grave

by V. L. Craven

The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly

-01- The more books we read, the sooner we perceive that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is on any consequence. Obvious though this should be, how few writers will admit it, or having made the admission, will be prepared to lay aside the piece of iridescent mediocrity on which they have embarked! Writers always hope that their next book is going to be their best, for they will not acknowledge that it is their present way of life which prevents them from ever creating anything different or better.
All excursions into journalism, broadcasting, propaganda and writing for the films, however grandiose, are doomed to disappointment. … It is in the nature of such work not to last, so it should never be undertaken.
-02- What are masterpieces? Let us name a few. The Odes and Epistles of Horace, the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, the Testament of Villon, the Essays of Montaigne, the Fables of La Fontaine, the Maxims of La Rouchefoucauld and La Bruyere, the Fleurs du Mal and Intimate Journals of Baudelaire, the Poems of Pope and Leopardi, the Illuminations of Rimbaud, and Byron’s Don Juan.
-03- As we grow older we discover that what at the time seemed to us the absorbing interested and preoccupations which we had taken up and thrown over, were in reality appetites or passions that had swept over us and passed on, until at last we come to see that our life has no more continuity than a pool in the rocks which the tide fills with foam and flotsam and then empties. Nothing remained in the end but the sediment which this flux deposits; ambergris valuable only to those who know how to use it.
-04- No one over thirty-five is worth meeting who has not something to teach us—something more than we could learn by ourselves, from a book.
-05- A lover’s warning: The sixth age is ascribed to Jupiter, in which we begin to take account of our time, to judge of ourselves, and grow to the perfection of our understanding; the last and seventh age to Saturn, wherein our days are sad and overcast and in which we find by dear and lamentable experience, and by the loss which can never be repaired, that of all our vain passions and affections past, the sorrow only abideth.  –Sir Walter Raleigh
-06- In youth the life of reason is not in itself sufficient; afterwards the life of emotion, except for short periods, becomes unbearable.
Yet sometimes at night I get a feeling of claustrophobia; of being smothered by my own personality, of choking through being in the world. During these moments the universe seems a prison wherein I lie unfettered by the chains of my senses and blinded through being myself.
It is like being pinned underneath the hull of a capsized boat yet being afraid to dive deeper and get clear. In those moments it seems that there must be a way out, and that through sloughing off the personality alone can it be taken.
-07- The fear of loneliness can be overcome, for it springs from weakness; human beings are intended to be free, and to be free is to be lonely…
-08- Cracking tawny nuts, looking out at tawny planes with their dappled festoons of yellow and green, reading the Tao Te Ching by a log fire: such is the wisdom of October: autumn bliss; the equinoctial study of religions.
-09- Repose, tranquility, stillness, inaction—these were the levels of the universe, the ultimate perfection of Tao.
-10- The secret of happiness (and therefore of success) is to be in harmony with existence, to be always calm, always lucid, always willing, ‘to be joined to the universe without being more conscious of it than an idiot’, to let each wave of life wash us a little farther up the shore.
-11- I have never seen a man who had such creative quite. It radiated from him as from the sun. His face was that of a man who knows about day and night, sky and sea and sir. He did not speak about these things. He had no tongue to tall of them. – J. Adler.
-12- The moment a writer puts pen to paper he is of his time; the moment he becomes of his time he ceases to appeal to other periods, and so will be forgotten. He who would write a book that would last forever must learn to use invisible ink. Yet if an author is of his age, ages similar to his will recur, and he will return to haunt them.
-13- …a woman’s desire for revenge outlasts all her other emotions ‘And their revenge is as the tiger’s spring, deadly and quick, and crushing…’
-14- [re women] When their long fuse of cruelty, deceit and revenge is set alight, it is always the thoughtlessness of a man which has fired it.
-15- Not one lust of the flesh, not one single illusion, not even our male nipples have been bred out of us…
-16- If one is too lazy to think, too vain to do a thing badly, too cowardly to admit it, one will never attain wisdom.
-17- Complacent mental laziness is the English disease.
-18- It is no easier for novelists, who can no longer develop character, situation or plot. Flaubert, Henry James, Proust, Joyce and Virginia Woolf have finished off the novel.
-19- Are [Pascal and Leopardi] pessimistic because they are ill? Or does their illness act as a short cut to reality—which is intrinsically tragic? Or did their deformities encourage the herd to treat them thoughtlessly, as so create in them a perjorative impression of human nature?
-20- Life is a maze in which we take the wrong turning before we have learnt to walk.
-21- Obesity is a mental state, a disease brought on by boredom and disappointment…The one way to get thin is to re-establish a purpose in life.
-22- There are but two ways to be a good writer (and no other kind is worth being): one way is, like Homer, Shakespeare or Goethe, to accept life completely, the other (Pascal’s, Proust’s, Leopardi’s, Baudelaire’s), is to refuse ever to lose sight of its horror. One must be Prospero or Caliban; in between lie vast dissipated areas of weakness and pleasure.
-23- I know that in such contemplation lies my true personality, and yet I live in an age when on all sides I am told exactly the opposite and asked to believe that the social and cooperative activity of humanity is the one way through which life can be developed.
-24- In wise love each divines the high secret self of the other, and, refusing to believe in the mere daily self, creates a mirror where the lover or the beloved sees and image to copy in daily life. – Yeats
-25- The secret of happiness lies in the avoidance of Angst (anxiety, spleen, noia, guilt, fear, remorse, cafard). It is a mistake to consider happiness as a positive state.
-26- [Regarding Angst] The business lunch is another meal from which we would prefer to be driven away in a coffin.
-27- Sloth rots intelligence, cowardice destroys all power at the source, while vanity inhibits us from facing the facts which might teach us something…
-28- If we believe in the spirit then we make an assumption which permits a whole chain of them, down to a belief in fairies, witches, astrology, black magic, ghosts and treasure-divining…
-29- Spring, season of massacre and offensives, of warm days and flowing blood, of flowers and bombs. Out with the hyacinths, on with the slaughter! Glorious weather for tanks and land-mines!
-30- The creative moment of the author comes with the autumn. The winter is the time for reading, revision, preparation of the soil; the spring for thawing back to life; the summer is for the open air, for satiating the body with health and action, but from October to Christmas for the release of pent-up mental energy, the hard crown of the year.
-31- The English masses are loveable: they are kind, decent, tolerant, practical and not stupid. The tragedy is that there are too many of them, and that they are aimless, having outgrown the servile functions for which they were encouraged to multiply. One day these huge crowds will have to seize power because there will be nothing else for them to do, and yet they neither demand power nor are ready to make use of it; they will learn only to be bored in a new way.
-32- Everything is a dangerous drug except reality, which is unendurable. Happiness is in the imagination. What we perform is always inferior to what we imagine; yet day-dreaming brings guilt; there is no happiness except through freedom from Angst…
-33- Fraternity is the State’s bribe to the individual; it is the one virtue which can bring courage to members of a materialistic society. All State propaganda exalts comradeship, for it is this gregarious herd-sense and herd-smell which keeps people from thinking and so reconciles them to the destruction of their private lives.
-34- All good writers have to discover the yawning crevasse which separates Man’s finite destiny from his infinite potentialities.
-35- …none but the truths which have been extracted under mental torture appeal to us. We live in such a desperate age that any happiness which we possess must be hidden like a deformity, for we know that, although all our nature revolts, we can create only through what we suffer.
-36- We are all conceived in close prison…and then all our life is but a going out to the place of execution, to death. Nor was there any man seen to sleep in the cart between Newgate and Tyburn—between prison and the place of execution, does any man sleep? But we sleep all the way; from the womb to the grave we are never thoroughly awake. –Donne
-37- Civilisation is maintained by a very few people in a small number of places, and we need only a few bombs and some prisons to blot it out altogether.
The civilised are those who get more out of life than the uncivilised, and for this the uncivilised have not forgiven them. One by one, the Golden Apples of the West are shaken from the tree.
-38- The civilisation of one epoch becomes the manure of the next. …The disasters of the world are due to its inhabitants not being able to grow old simultaneously. There is always a raw and intolerant nation eager to destroy the tolerant and mellow.
-39- Ennui is the condition of not fulfilling our potentialities; remorse of not having fulfilled them; anxiety of not being able to fulfill them—but what are they?
-40- Today an artist must expect to write in water and to cast in sand.
-41- Even in the most socialized community, there must always be a few who best serve it by being kept solitary and isolated. The artist, like the mystic, naturalist, mathematician or ‘leader’, makes his contribution out of his solitude.
-42- When young we are faithful to individuals, when older we grow more loyal to situations and to types. Confronted by such specimens, we seem to know all about them in an instant (which is true) and thus in spite of our decreasing charms we sweep them off their feet, for young people do not understand themselves, and fortunately for us, can still be hypnotized by those who do.
-43- I am now forced to admit that anxiety is my true condition, occasionally intruded on by work, pleasure, melancholy or despair.
-44- The mistake which is commonly made about neurotics is to suppose that they are interesting. It is not interesting to be always unhappy, engrossed with oneself, ungrateful and malignant, and never quite in touch with reality.
-45- We are no more free than the cells in a plant or the microbes in a drop of water, but are held firmly in tension by the pull of the future and the stress of the past.
-46- Message from the Id: If you would collect women instead of books, I think I could help you.
-47- The self-torments of melancholiacs, which are without doubt pleasurable, signify a gratification of sadistic tendencies and of hate, both of which relate to an object and in this way have both been turned round upon the self. In the end the sufferers usually suceed in taking revenge, by the circuitous path of self-punishment, on the original object who occasioned the injury and who is usually to be found in their near neighbourhood. No neurotic harbours thoughts of suicide which are not murderous impules against others redirected upon himself.
-48-From the violent character of this encounter I understood a little more about the nature of my emotions.
-49- Isis was represented as the moon rising from the sea.
-50- Our memories are card-indexes consulted, and then put back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.
-51- Live in the present, Palinurus; you are too unbalanced to brood upon the past. One day you will remember nothing but its pleasures; now you must force it out of your mind.
-52- Hence Pascal’s Pensee that all the evil in the world comes from men not being able to sit quietly in a room.
-53- While thoughts exist, words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.
-54- The English language has, in fact, so contracted to our own littleness that it is no longer possible to make a good book out of words alone. A writer must concentrate on his vocabulary, but he must also depend on the order, the timing and spacing of his words, and try to arrange them into a form which is seemingly artless, yet perfectly proportioned. He must let his omission suggest that which the language can no longer accomplish. Words today are like the shells and ropes of seaweed which a child brings home glistening from the beach, and which in an hour have lost their lustre.
-55- From now on specialize; never again make any consession to the ninety-nine per cent of you which is like everybody else at the expense of the one per cent which is unique.
-56- There is no hate without fear. Hate is crystallized fear, fear’s dividend, fear objectivized. We hate what we fear ad so where hate is, fear is lurking. … Analyse in this way the hatred of ideas…Heat is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise.
-57- A child, left to play by itself, says of quite easy things, ‘Now I am going to do something very difficult’. Soon, out of vanity, fear and emptiness, he builds up a world of custom, convention and myth, in which everything must be just so; certain doors are one-way streets, certain trees are sacred, certain paths taboo. Then comes along a grown-up or other more robust children; they kick over the imaginary walls, climb the forbidden trees, regard the difficult as easy and the private world is destroyed. The instinct to create myths, to colonize reality with the motions, remains. The myths become tyrannies to hide our suddenly perceived nakedness. Like caddis-worms or like those crabs which dress themselves with seaweed, we wear belief and custom.
-58- If we believe that the universe is an accident and life an accident contingent on the universe, and man an accident contingent on life; then the rules are made for men to be happy, and it has been found by generations of exponents of these rules that happiness consists in fulfilment of the personality.
-59- Or is it that in late autumn the season forbids an active existence, and we are forced back on reading and contemplation, on those schemes of thought which imply a corresponding rejection of the world?
-60- Sometimes the development of a delusion leads to a cessation of tension, and is associated with a feeling of tranquillity and certainty, such as the patient had not hitherto experienced. A study of the past history of these cases sometimes creates the impression that the whole life have been converging to its solution in the psyhosis in an inevitable kind of way. It is not unusual for a patient to say that his whole life had been like a dream and that now he feels awake for the first time.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress