Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

S by JJ Abrams and Doyg Dorst S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
-01- p16-7 At a table along the far wall sits a young woman of no more than twenty, alone. She is reading a book–a large volume, as thick as Don Quixote–in the light from a sconce on the wall behind her, as if this chaotic, drunken hovel were a library. She reads with one elbow on the table, her thumb cradling her chin, one finger resting thoughtfully over her lips…She appears to enjoy her public solitude; there is an easy grace in her square-shouldered posture…
-02- p42 Jen: That’s what you assumed.
Eric: Me, and thousands of others.
Jen: How nice that you all got to be wrong together.
-03- p48 Jen: Don’t we all have to do this? Separate ourselves from who we were to become who we want to be?
Eric: But you can argue that it’s a series of *shifts* rather than a break. Slough off some ideas of who we are acquire new ones…but we’re still *continuous*.
-04- p114 ‘Every writer must stand behind his work,’ Straka told Otto Grahn in a letter, ‘and do so completely and forever. He should expressly avoid acknowledging that any challenge issued by an editor, a reader, or–heaven forbid–a film-studio panjandrum is of any merit. It has never been more obvious to me that no one but the writer can understand what his story is or what it requires in the telling.’
-05- p123 They confer about their options, which are few and poor, although this has the benefit of making planning much easier.
-06- pp128-9 Ostrero looks chastened, and S. watches him try to compose himself, to turn himself into a man who is afraid of nothing, who is bravely doing what he needs to do to survive, who can accept the loss of his family and everything about the life he had until last night, who will stride forward as an asset to the group and not a liability. This is, S. notes, very much a work in progress.

Saturday by Ian McEwan
-01- Solitude and work were less threatening to her inner world than kisses.
-02- Happiness seemed like a betrayal of principle, but happiness was unavoidable.
-03- Who could ever reckon up the damage done to love and friendship and all hopes of happiness by a surfeit or depletion of this or that neurotransmitter.

“The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad
001. Here and there gleams of a few scattered pieces of silver marked the windings of the great river; and on the nearest of them, just within the bar, the tug steaming right into the land became lost to my sight, hull and funnel and masts, as though the impassive earth had swallowed her up without an effort, without a tremor.
002. I wondered how far I should turn out faithful to that ideal conception of one’s own personality every man sets up for himself secretly.
003.  …for exactitude in small matters is the very soul of discipline. [PN: Very similar to Aurelius ‘Hour by hour’ meditation]
004. His expression was concentrated, meditative, under the inspecting light of the lamp I held up to his face; such as a man thinking hard in solitude might wear.
005. He was one of those creatures that are just simmering all the time with a silly sort of wickedness. Miserable devils that have no business to live at all.
006. And yet, haggard as he appeared, he looked always perfectly self-controlled, more than calm—almost invulnerable.
007. And in the same whisper, as if we two whenever we talked had to say things to each other which were not fit for the world to hear…

‘Seldom’ by Zdravka Evtimova [Best European Fiction 2015] (translated by the author)
-001- I wanted to go on a short holiday to Ostend, on the North Sea. I had been there once and the wind was so strong I could lie on it. The sea was the color of asphalt and there were no people on the beach.

Seven Wives, Seven Prisons by L.A. Abbott
001.  The ill-success of my efforts, hitherto, to secure one, and my consequent sufferings were all lost upon me–experience, bitter experience, had taught me nothing.
002. for it is human nature, now that I could do what I pleased, I pleased to do a great deal..
003. All this was very pleasant to reflect upon; but do not believe I thought even then, that the reason for this change in my circumstances, and changes for the better, was simply because I had minded my business and had let women alone.

“The Shout” by Robert Graves
001.  He wrote a handbook for writers called The Reader Over Your Shoulder
002.   [From the introduction by Christopher Isherwood] Horror is always of its cause; terror never is. That is precisely what makes terror terrifying.

[“The Shout”] is also partly about Cricket, and this alone would warrant its inclusion in a book of English stories. Better still, it is about Cricket at a lunatic asylum–which is how the National Game often appeared to me, who had difficulty in taking it sane and seriously.]
003.  “…In weather like this he is apt to bowl at the batsman’s head. He is not insane in the usual sense, merely magnificently ill-tempered. The doctor’s can do nothing with him. He wants shooting, really.”

Sign of the Book The Sign of the Book by John Dunning
001. ‘…I do tend to meet more than my share of the world’s real sons of bitches.’
‘Wonder why that is.’
‘Maybe because they tend to get my back up. I’ve found that it’s best to draw a line with tyrants and let them know right away that there are certain flavors of crap I will not eat.
002. I kept at it slowly. In recent years I had made a startling discovery, that when you’re going nowhere anyway, there’s no real hurry to get there.
003. ‘…But Lennie would rape his own mother and then tell her what a lousy lay she is.’
004. ‘You drag that noble word asshole down to new depths. Next to you an asshole is an icon. You are the [???] of assholery, Lennie…’
005. I had my coat pushed back so he could see the gun on my belt, not much of it but enough. All legal, all kosher: I had a proper, legal permit for my non-threatening gun.
006. ‘Once you step outside the law,’ [???] said, ‘your whole cause sinks right down to the perp’s level. Even if you think you’re right, the end can’t justify the means.’ The trouble with that notion, I said to him then, is that it worries too much about rules and not enough about protecting one terrified flesh-and-blood victim. Look, the system’s never going to be perfect anyway, I said loftily, so why not bend it a little if you can put away a true badass who might otherwise slide and could do great damage? … There are times when the only way to get a very bad guy is to play by his rules.
007. God was alive, he loved money and he was all-white. I had only been in the Preacher’s house a few minutes and I had already learned these valuable lessons.
008. Why would he keep this kind of stuff? The only answer is no answer at all. There’s no accounting for people and what they do.
009. … I will never understand how we can pardon an animal who rapes, then cuts off his victim’s hands and sits calmly smoking, watching her bleed to death. How can we say he was crazy then but now he’s well, what kind of doctorate covers wisdom like that and who cares if he is? Who cares if his mother beat him every day with an ironing cord when we was five? I’ll grieve for the child he was and lock up forever the monster he has become. All I know is I will never put his sorry ass on the street again.
010. ‘If she’s a monster, she’s not like Steinbeck’s monster. No, and she’s not like those real-life monsters, Bundy and Gacy and Dahmer, either; there are so few women life that, it’s not worth the time it takes to think about them. Serial savagery is like poaching it’s almost exclusively a male sport. Unless she’d some kind of freak with bodies buried all over the mountaintop, she is far more typical of women who kill than any of those monsters. There’s a strong personal motive for what she does… If she kills once, others may follow, but they too are personal, not random. She has no inherent blood lust: if no one offends her, we may never hear of her again…
011. He has a good, rich voice, but almost as soon as he said his first words, his savant skills went into a slow fade. This is what sometimes happens when a mute savant learns to talk.

‘The Silence of a Man Alone’ by Jorge Marmelo (translated by Dominic Gourd) [from Best European Fiction 2015]
001. Better to keep quiet than talk rubbish to pass the time. Time passes for the living and ends for those that die. There’s nothing more to it. It can’t be made to pass more quickly.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk
001. After a lifetime in which every experience of love was touched by shame and suffering, the prospect of falling in love filled Ka with an intense, almost instinctive dread.
002. Ka thought it strangely depressing that the suicide girls had had to struggle to find a private moment to kill themselves. Even after swallowing their pills, even as they lay quietly dying, they’d had to share their rooms with others. Ka had grown up in Nisantas reading Western literature, and in his own fantasies of suicide he had always thought it important to have a great deal of time and space; at the very least you needed a room you could stay in for days without any knocking on the door. In his fantasies, suicide was a solemn ceremony with sleeping pills and whiskey, a final act performed alone and of one’s own free will; in fact, every time he had ever imagined doing away with himself, it was the indispensable loneliness of it that scared him off.
003. Rising up inside him was that feeling he had always known as a child and as a young man at moments of extraordinary happiness: a prospect of future misery and hopelessness.
004. “He’ll speak to you, and then all of a sudden he’ll throw himself on the floor. He’ll take some ordinary thing you said and say how wise it is; he’ll insist you’re a real man. Some people even think he’s making fun of them at this point! But that’s His Excellency’s special gift. He does it so convincingly you end up believing that he really thinks what you’ve said is wise and that he believes as you do with all his heart. he acts as if there is something great inside you. After a while, you begin to see this inner beauty too, and because you have never before sensed the beauty within you, you think it must be the presence of God, and this makes you happy. In other words, the world becomes a beautiful place when you’re near this man. And you’ll love our esteemed sheikh because he’s brought you to this happiness. All the while, another voice is whispering inside you that this is all a game the sheikh is playing and you are a miserable idiot. But as far as I could figure out from what Muhtar told me, it seems you no longer have the strength to be that miserable idiot. You’re so wretchedly unhappy that all you want it for god to save you. Now, your mind—which knows nothing of your soul’s desires—objects a little but not enough; you embark on the road the sheikh has shown you because it is only road in the world that will let you stand on your own two feet. Sheikh Efendi’s greatest gift is to make that wretch sitting before him feel special, even more as one with the universe than His Excellency himself. To most men in Kars this feels like a miracle, for they know only too well than no one else in Turkey could be wretched, poor, and unsuccessful as they. So you come to believe, first in the sheikh and then in the long-forgotten teachings of your Islamic faith. Contrary to what they think in Germany and the pronouncements of secularist intellectuals, this is not a bad thing. You can become like everyone else, you can become one with the people, and, even if it’s only for a little while, you can escape from unhappiness.”
“I’m not unhappy,” said Ka.
‘In fact, someone that unhappy is not unhappy at all. Even the most miserable people have hidden consolations and hopes they secretly embrace. It’s not like Istanbul; there are no mocking nonbelievers. Things are simpler here.”
005. “Then confess to me what you hid from the police this morning. Tell me of the guilt you hide deep in your heart.”
“I think I may be starting to believe in God here,” Ka said, with a smile. “It’s something I may be hiding even from myself.”
“You’re deceiving yourself! Even if you did believe in God, it would make no sense to believe alone. You’d have to believe in him that same way the poor do; you’d have to become one of them. It’s only by eating what they eat, living where they live, laughing at the same jokes, and getting angry whenever they do that you can believe in their God, If you’re leading an utterly different life, you can’t be worshiping the same God they are. God is fair enough to know it’s not a question of reason or logic but how you live your life. …”
006. “but she doesn’t trust you. Trust takes time. Impatient men like you don’t fall in love with a woman, they take possession of her.”
007. Contrary to what the West seems to think, it is not poverty that brings us so close to God; it’s the fact that no one is more curious than we are to find out why we are here on earth and what will happen to us in the next world.
008. They were a happy family, but that didn’t mean they were flashing smiles every other minute, as we do here when there’s nothing to smile about. Maybe this is why they were happy. For them life was a serious business to be dealt with responsibly. It wasn’t a dead-end struggle or a painful ordeal the way it is here. But their gravity of purpose permeated every aspect of their lives.
009. …he also understood that his intellectual pretensions, political activities, and cultural snobberies had brought him to an arid existence that cut him off from the feelings this soap opera was now provoking in him—and worst of all is was his own stupid fault.
010. To express beliefs without conviction was liberating.
011. “Mankind’s greatest error,” continued the young Kurd, “the biggest deception of the past thousand years is this: to confuse poverty with stupidity.”
012. But Ka reserved his bile for a society that so easily forgot its writer and poets: For this reason he thought the smartest thing to do was retreat into a corner and try to find some happiness.
013. All over the world—even in America—newspapers tailor the news to their reader’s desires. If your readers want nothing but lies from you, who in the world is going to sell papers that tell the truth?
014. It wasn’t happiness he was after—this was very clear to him following his third glass of raki; he would even go so far as to say that he preferred to be unhappy. The important thing was to share the hopelessness, to create a little nest in which two people could live together, keeping the rest of the world at bay.
015. I have no desire to play the hero. Heroic dreams are the consolation of the unhappy. After all, when people like us say we’re being heroic, it usually means we’re about to kill each other—or kill ourselves.
016. …those given to verbal abuse are often obsessed by a need to know how much their lovers loved them…

‘Somavox’ by Christopher Meredith
001. All the space that matter is made of suddenly understood itself, and was generous, and let the other in. Their different grammars and lexicons didn’t just blend into a creole. They atomized as they crossed and reconfigured.

Specimen Days Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
001. From Leaves of Grass: I have heard the talkers talking, the talk of the beginning and the end. But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. … I celebrate myself, and what I assume you shall assume.
002. He undressed. He did not remove the locket. If he removed the locket, if he ever removed the locket, it would no longer be something Catherine has put on him. It would become something he put upon himself.
003. Although she didn’t like to dwell on it, the [???] offices might have been designed for maximum grimness. Could the cubicle dividers be the colour of a three day old corpse? Sure. Could greenish light buzz down on everyone from milky plastic ceiling panels? Absolutely. Could the smell of burnt coffee be blown through the air-conditioning ducts? No problem.
004. You know, better than the average citizen, that the world contains a subworld, where the residents do as most people do, pay rent and buy groceries, but have a little something extra going on. They receive personal messages from their television sets or are raped nightly by a sitcom star or have discovered that the cracks on the sidewalk between Broadway and Lafayette spell out the names of the aliens who are posing as world leaders.
005. The most surprising thing about these people, as it turned out, was their dullness. All their human juices flowed in one direction; they cared about nothing, really, beyond their fixations…
006. She knew. Nine times out of ten, the ones who followed through [on bomb threats] were obeying someone or something. They were servants to a cause.
007. Leaves of Grass: And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand [???] and composed before a million universes.
008. (… Do you know that universal time didn’t exist until around the late 1800s? It was two o’clock in one village, three o’clock in another. It wasn’t until the transcontinental railroads that we all had to agree on when it was two and when it was three, so people could make their trains, it took a full generation just to convince people that they had to show up at work every single day at the same hour.)
009. He’d have been a little baby and as he got older, he’d have been passive and fearful, strangely empty, infinitely suggestible; as ‘as if’ personality, one of those mysterious beings who lack some core of self everyone else takes for granted. He’d have been, all his short life, a convincing member of the dead, waiting for his time to come.
010. ‘I exist as I am, that is enough…’
011. ‘…I’m not really all that interested in feelings, frankly. Not of the boo-hoo-hoo variety. But there’s something biologicals feel that I don’t. For instance, I understand about beauty, I get the concept, I know what qualifies, but I don’t feel it. I almost feel it, sometimes. But never for sure, never for real. … I feel like there’s something terrible and wonderful and amazing that’s just beyond my grasp. I have dreams about it… I feel like I’m always on the brink of something that never arrives. I want to either have it or be free of it.’
012. She must always have harboured a privacy so deep it was almost available, like the silence of a well.

Spiderweb by Penelope Lively
001 p4: I advise silent neutrality, whatever your natural reactions may be.
002 p8: …silent…who seldom spoke except to each other because they knew the rest of the world to be against them.
003. p14: In her trade you travelled most fruitfully when you travelled alone.
004. p15: …Read with luxurious eclecticism, pander to ignorance, learn about things of which she knew nothing.
005. p28: … I never was one who depended on a nice chat over a garden fence.
006. p58: I am stuck with the tiresome human tendency toward emotional response.
007. 62: …There was a appalling imbalance of feeling. It was like associations in the past with men who had fallen for her but for whom she could feel nothing more positive than a mild affection.
008. p67: I get on a storm with the young. But I’d rather they were someone else’s. [Child rearing] is simply a system to ensure a controllable labour supply. … Children are useful disposable goods.
009. p68: We don’t conform to social expectations. Unmarried, no children. We’re the sort that would have been burned as witches, in other times and places. Or consulted as oracles. You have to pick your moment, if you’re inclined to non-conformity.
010. 70: Not happenstance, she thinks, not happenstance at all, but the way that the future is implicit witin the present, did one but know. The signals are already there but we cannot read them.
011. 76: You are…carrying around a mental notepad and pen—trash them. Join the human race.
012. p78: …interpretation is distorted by expectations.
013. 88: She is indeed in love. This means that she is self-absorbed, unobservant and not herself at all.
014. 90: She thought of the force—lines out there—of tacit understanding, of mutual incomprehension, of tolerance of hostility. Those who operated in shiftless isolation…
015. p94: We are defined by what we own, by what we are called.
016. p95: It is perhaps only the nicely adjusted who can afford to dismiss their antecedents. Those passionately interested in their roots are usually either the historically oppressed or the oppressors, both needing to prove a point.
017. p107: Here, she had cruised briefly in that stratosphere which is beyond normal emotion, beyond contentment or exhilaration, that condition which drenched all perception, at the time but is only recognizable in retrospect.
018. 109: He talked and she had stopped being irritated at the invasion of her rock because his talk was intriguing.
019. p112: People are wary of lovers, for good reason. They recognized an abnormal state of mind… They see a temporary madness. They see those who care for nothing but themselves.
020. 114: She both did not count and had to be accounted for differently.

The Stranger by Camus
-01- As always, whenever I want to get rid of someone I’m not really listening to, I make it appear as if I agreed.
-02- He didn’t understand me and he was sort of holding it against me. I felt the urge to reassure him I was like everybody else, just like everybody. But really there wasn’t much point, and I gave up the idea out of laziness.
-03- But everybody knows life isn’t worth living. Deep down I knew perfectly well that it doesn’t much matter whether you die at thirty or seventy, since in either case other men and women will naturally go on living—and for thousands of years.
-04- Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.
-05- Anyway, after that, remembering Marie meant nothing to me. I wasn’t interested in her dead. That seemed prefectly normal to me, since I understood very well that people would forget me when I was dead.
-06- I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t. And it just so happened that what he was talking about didn’t interest me.
-07- He looked away and without moving asked me if I wasn’t talking that way out of despair. I explained to him that I wasn’t desperate I was just afraid, which was only natural. ‘Then God can help you,’ he said. ‘Every man I have known in your position has turned to Him.’ I acknowledged that that was their right. It also meant that they must have had time for it. As for me, I didn’t want anybody’s help, and I just didn’t have the time to interest myself in what didn’t interest me.
-08- ‘Have you no hope at all? And do you really live with the thought that when you die, you die, and nothing remains?’ ‘Yes,’ I said.
-09- He then asked if a ‘change of life,’ as he called it, didn’t appeal to me, and I answered that one never changed his way of life was as good as another; and my present one suited me quite well.
-10- I could see that I got on his nerves; he couldn’t make me out, and, naturally enough, this irritated him.
-11- ‘Well, I rarely have anything much to say. So, naturally I keep my mouth shut.
-12- I noticed that he laid stress on my ‘intelligence.’ It puzzled me rather why what would count as a good point in an ordinary person should be used against an accused man as an overwhelming proof of his guilt.
-13- [The Priest] seemed so cocksure, you see. And yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a woman’s hair.
-14- From the dark horizon of my future a sort of slow, persistent breeze had been blowing toward me, all my life long, from the years that were to come. And on its way that breeze had leveled out all the ideas that people had tried to foist on me in the equally unreal years I was then living through. What difference would they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother’s love, or his God; or the way a man decided to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to ‘choose’ not only me but thousands of millions of privileged class. All alike would be condemned to die one day; his turn, too, would come like the others’.
-15- It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realise I’d been happy, and that I was happy still.
-16- It gave on a queer, dreamlike impression, that blue-white glare overhead and all this blackness round one: the sleek black of the hearse, the dull black of the men’s clothes, and the silvery-black gashes in the road.
-17- …the glare of the morning sun hit me in the eyes like a clenched fist
-18- It was like a furnace outside, with the sunlight splintering into flakes of fire on the sand and sea.
-19- For two hours the sun seemed to have made no progress; becalmed in a sea of molten steel.
-20- I’ve often thought that had I been compelled to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but gaze up at the patch of sky just overhead, I’d have got used to it by degrees.
-21- …I have never been able really to regret anything in all my life. I’ve always been far too much absorbed in the present moment, or the immediate future, to think back.
-22- “But,” I reminded myself, “it’s common knowledge that life isn’t worth living, anyhow.” And, on a wide view, I could see that it makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or threescore and ten—since, in either case, other men and women will continue living, the world will go on as before.
-23- Once you’re up against it, the precise manner of your death has obviously small importance.
-24- Supposing she were dead, her memory would mean nothing; I couldn’t feel an interest in a dead girl. This seemed to me quite normal; just as I realized people would soon forget me once I was dead. I couldn’t even say that this was hard to stomach; really, there’s no idea to which one doesn’t get acclimatized in time.
-25- But, though I mightn’t be so sure about what interested me, I was absolutely sure about what didn’t interest me. And the question he had raised [about a belief in god] didn’t interest me at all.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
-01-Bruno seemed incapable of surprise, only a whetting of interest.
-02- The afternoon he had found them in the apartment, like no other afternoon, with its own colour, taste, and sound, its own world, like a horrible little work of art.
-03- Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament! People get so far—and it take just the least little thing to push them over the brink.
-04- [Regarding number of murders reported in newspapers] One twelfth! One twelfth! Just imagine! Who do you think the other eleven twelfths are? A lot of little people that don’t matter. All the people the cops know they’ll never catch.
-05- The sun poured down moltenly, not yellow but colorless, like something grown white with its own heat.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
001. 7: At the last minute, however, it seemed that Providence had wavered, or decided that a shock of red hair would not be appropriate, neither to Madame Pericand’s irreproachable morals nor to her social status, so she had been given mousy brown hair.
002. 18: He hated the war; it threatened much more than his lifestyle or peace of mind. it continually destroyed the world of the imagination, the only world where he felt happy. It was like a shrill, brutal trumpet shattering the fragile crystal walls he’d taken such pains to build in order to shut out the rest of the world.
003. 18: He didn’t want to see anything new. He dismissed reality with the bored, startled gesture of a sleeping man awakened abruptly in the middle of a dream.
004. 54-5: In spite of the exhaustion, the hunger, the fear, Maurice Michaud was not really unhappy. He had a unique way of thinking: he didn’t consider himself that important; in his own eyes, he was not that rare and irreplaceable creature most people imagine when they think about themselves. He felt pity towards his fellow sufferers, but his pity was lucid and detached.
005. 55: “There’s never been anything as horrible as this!” a big woman next to him groaned.
“On the contrary, Madame, on the contrary,” he replied quietly.
006. 139: Phillipe had already noticed that he would only get a response from them after a few moments’ silence, as if they were making up a story, a lie, or as if they didn’t exactly understand what they were meant to do… Always the same feeling of dealing with people who were… not quite human…
007. 181-2: He thought, on a more serious note, that this was the secret of his happiness amid so much upheaval. He loved nothing, at least nothing that time could distort, that death could carry away; he’d been right not to have married, not to have had children… My god, everyone else had been taken in. He’d been the clever one.
008. 241: She paused and nodded curtly to the teacher who had just come in: she was a woman who did not attend Mass and who had buried her husband in a civil ceremony; according to her pupils she hadn’t even been baptised, which seemed not so much scandalous as unbelievable, like saying someone had been born with the tail of a fish. As this person’s conduct was irreproachable, the Viscountess hated her all the more: ‘because,’ she explained to the Viscount, ‘if he drank or had lovers, you could understand her lack of religion, but just imagine, Amaury, the confusion that can be caused in people’s minds when they see virtue practised by people who are not religious.’
009. 302: People judge one another according to their own feelings. It is only the miser who sees others enticed by money, the lustful who see others obsessed by desire.
010. 305: Though she lied and deceived herself, the lies were her own creation and she cherished them. For very brief moments she was happy. Her happiness was not hampered by the restrictions of reality.
011. 387: Salvation, in general is when the time allocated to us is longer than the time allocated to a crisis.
012. 388: …because of him, through him, he hates or thinks he hates, which is the same thing…

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