Casting the Runes by M.R. James
…and tea was taken to the accompaniment of a discussion which golfing persons can imagine for the themselves, but which the conscientious writer has no right to inflict upon any non-golfing persons. The conclusion arrived at was that certain strokes might have been better and that in certain emergencies neither played had experienced that amount of luck which a human being has a right to speech.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
001. Miracles, visions, necromancy, dreams, and other preternatural events, are exploded now even from romances. That was not the case when our author wrote; much less when the story itself is supposed to have happened. Belief in every kind of prodigy was so established in those dark ages, that an author would not be faithful to the manners of the times, who should omit all mention of them. He is not bound to believe them himself, but he must represent his actors as believing them.
002. …he curbed the yearnings of his heart, and did not dare to lean even towards pity. The next transition of his soul was to exquisite villainy.
The Catastrophist by Lawrence Douglas
001. Schopenhauer’s argument that pain is a more philosophically interesting experience than happiness. Pain, he observed, has roused the human spirit to its most fierce and stormy creations, whereas happiness invariably expends itself in a rainbow of bland cliche. And while pain can assume limitless forms and intensities, happiness restricts itself to a comparatively narrow palate. As an example, Schopenhauer turned to his nail-picking habit. All inveterate nail-pickers have on occasion picked with such reckless determination that the nail bleeds and becomes infected. One night, Schopenhauer’s thumb was so inflamed that he could not sleep. That pain, from a partially torn thumbnail, was more intense, he claimed, than any corresponding feeling of happiness he had ever felt. For many years this made sense to me, but that afternoon I felt sorry for Schopenhauer. Obviously he has never felt what possessed me at my teak-finished desk: the transformative power of pure happiness. It ushered me to a state of heighted aliveness, my every sense acute and receptive. A superabundance of energy coursed though me.
002. I tried to recall what I knew about the Thirty Years War. I recalled that it started with someone being tossed from a window in Prague and ended with a quarter of the population of Central Europe dead.
003. ‘…And what do you mean about trying harder–you think I enjoy being this way? Do you have any idea how hard I struggle to master these fears?’
‘I know you do, but maybe that’s part of the problem. Instead of trying to think through all your dread, try ignoring it. Just pretend it isn’t there.’
‘Pretend I’m normal?’
‘Exactly. I mean this seriously. If you think, ‘a normal person would act happy in this situation,’ then act happy, even if you are feeling misery. If you can do this successfully, then I think you really are okay.’
I thought about this for some time. Was Klara’s ability to pull herself out of her purple funks a result of her fluid understanding of personal identity? Maybe my problem was too strong a belief in the continuity of self over time. Maybe I needed to take the whole idea of the coherent human subject more casually, even if that flew in the face of my narcissism and liberalism.
004. Where do people find the courage to act on their debauchery?…I once read an article by an anthropologist who divided people into two basic camps–the ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ group, and the ‘nothing ventured, nothing lost’ group. It wasn’t hard to figure out what one I belonged in.
Or maybe it was sick to envy a pathetic pervert. Maybe the poor toad couldn’t help himself.
005. To the other I could see the Reichstag, enveloped in a shroud, as if Christo had never left.
006. It often crossed my mind while addressing an academic audience that my position was entirely specious–that I could just as easily have been arguing the opposite view.
007. In my mid-twenties. I had longed for a nineteeth-century-style voluptuous illness, a physical analogue to me depressed mental state. Nothing life-threatening, just one of those obscure maladies, like neurasthenia, that would require taking “the waters” in Baden-Baden. A nurse with gigantic Nordic eyes and pillowy breasts would wrap me in camel-hair blankets and push me along gravel paths in a wooden wheelchair, and later would serve me tea and recite Rilke as we sat together on a wrought-iron balcony overlooking a field of ice sculptures from Parsifal. To my disappointment, I remained tenaciously healthy.
‘The Child of Queen Victoria’ by William Plomer
001. We hear a great deal about sex nowadays; it is possible to overestimate its importance, because there are always people who pay it little attention or who apparently manage, like Sir Isaac Newton, to get along, without giving it a thought.
002. [About a thundercloud over mountains] Those sunny hills seemed to be possessed by a spirit that nursed a grievance.
003. And to be all by oneself and to think oneself right is really rather fatal, especially if one naturally tends to be both straightforward and severe.
004. He was being Hamletized by circumstances.
005. …on long, sultry afternoons a group of turkey-bustards [sic] , as grave as senators, wouldplod grumbling across some grassy plateau,…
006. A clump of clivia lilies were blooming in deep shadow–they were living and dying in secret, without argument, and untroubled by eyes and voices.
007. once even a few drops of rain fell in the dust, as if a few devils had spat from a great height.
008. He put out his light, and like a convict without a crime, in a prison that was not locked, for a sentence of indeterminate duration, he just lay there sweating.
009. The tenseness of the atmosphere, the expectancy of nature, and the way in which the whole landscape, the very buildings and their shadows seemed to take part in the great symphony of the impending storm, combined to produce an effect so dramatic as to seem almost supernatural.