Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Unholy Love by Joyce Carol Oates
01. It is not her body that he wants but it is only through her body that he can take possession of another human being, so he must labor upon her body, he must enter her body, to make his claim.

The Untouchable by John Banville
-001- When I think back to then, from out of this sepulchral silence, I am aware of a ceaseless hubbub of voices loudly saying things no one seemed in the least inclined to listen to. It was the Age of Statements.
-002- I liked the quality of the silence that fell, or rather rose—for silence rises, surely? … At the end of a well-made period I always have a sense of ease, of sort of blissful settling back, my mind folding its arms, as it were, and smiling to itself in quiet satisfaction.
…the excessive interest rates charged by Seneca was one of the causes of the revolt of the Britons against the occupier—which means, …that Queen Boadicea’s rebellion was directed against capitalism as represented by the Roman Empire’s leading philosophical proponent of austerity.
-003- ”Baudelaire described Stoicism as a religion with only one sacrament: suicide.”
-004- He had the look of a man who knew something damaging about everyone in the room.
-005- …everything else I have done or not done has faded to insignificance before the fact of my so-called treachery. While in reality all that I am is all of a piece: all of a piece, and yet broken up into a myriad selves.
-006- He was genuinely curious about people—the sure mark of the second-rate novelist.
-007- the party took on the air of monkey-house hysteria.
-008- Even as a babe I was already a solitary.
-009- Tight though I was I saw clearly that this was a performance, from behind which he was studying me with the detached intentness that was to become his trademark as a novelist.
-010- Ah, what heights of contempt I was capable of in those days! Now, in old age, I have largely lost that faculty, and I miss it, for it was passion of a sort.
-011- After a long pause for thought (funny there is no mark in prose to indicate length lapses of time: whole days could pass in the space of a full stop—whole years.)
-012- There is something about her reticence, her profound, stalled silences, that bespeaks a deep-seated constraint. She is too old for her years. I have the sense of an ineradicable disaffection for things in general.
-013- You’re all idealists pretending to be pragmatists. You think you care only for the cause while really the cause is only something to lose yourselves in, a way to cancel the ego. It’s half religion and half Romanticism. Marx is your St Paul, and your Rousseau
-014- When, ten years previously, I had failed mathematics, or it had failed me, I had understood clearly what the consequences would be: an entire remaking of the self, with all the dedication and unremitting labour that such an exercise would entail. Now I had managed the transformation, but at great cost in physical and intellectual energy. Metamorphosis is a painful process.
-015- I have always disliked the sea, its surliness, its menace, its vast reaches and unknowable, shudder-inducing depths.
-016- Diderot said that what we do is, we erect a statue in our own image inside ourselves—idealised, you know, but still recognisable—and then spend our lives engages in the effort to make ourselves into its likeness.
-017- But what comfort does belief offer, when it contains within it its own antithesis, the glistening drop of poison at the heart? Is the Pascalian wager sufficient to sustain a life, a real life, in the real world? The fact that you place your bet on red does not mean that the black is not still there.
-018- I have a different definition of what constitutes effective action. The worm in the bud is more thorough than the wind that shakes the bough. This is what the spy knows. It is what I know.
-019- I suspect that significant first encounters only take on their aura of significance in retrospect.
-020- If not a Hun, I thought, then Austrian, surely—somewhere German-speaking, at any rate; all that gloom and soulfulness could only be the result of an upbringing among compound words.
-021- It is hard for anyone who has not given himself wholeheartedly to a belief (and I say again, Miss V., this is how it is: you give yourself to it, it does not fall upon you like sanctifying grace from Heaven) to appreciate how the believer’s conscious mind can separate itself into many compartments containing many, conflicting dogmas.
-022- –No one more than a sceptic on his knees—Querell dixit… Hartmann distrusted words, and made it a point of pride never to use more of them than the occasion required.
-023- I cannot explain it—or could, perhaps, but do not want to. (One can know too much about oneself, that is a thing I have learned.)
-024- Man is only lovable in the multitude, and at a good distance.
-025- I thought of bombs falling on the white towns of Spain and was struck, as earlier Alastair had been, by the hardly comprehensible incongruity of time and circumstance; how could I be here, while all that was happening there? Yet I could feel nothing for the victims; distant deaths are weightless.
-026- My own gaze faltered and slipped as the ratchets of my self-possession disengaged for a second with a soft jolt.
-027- I notice once again how Russians, when they speak, seem not only drunk but at the same time look as if they are juggling a hot potato in their mouths. This is true also of working people in the part of Ireland what I was brought up;…
-028- In a spy’s world, as in dreams, the terrain is always uncertain. You put your foot on what looks like solid ground and it gives way under you and you go into a kind of free fall, turning slowly tail over tip and clutching on to things that are themselves falling. This instability, this myriadness that the world takes on, is both the attraction and the terror of being a spy. Attraction, because in the midst of such uncertainty you are never required to be yourself; whatever you do, there is another, alternative you standing invisibly to one side, observing, evaluating, remembering. This is the secret power of the spy, different from the power that orders armies into battle; it is purely personal; it is the power to be and not to be, to detach oneself from oneself, to be oneself and at the same time another.
-029- Our footsteps plashed on the pavement, and as we walked from the light of one lamp to another our shadows stood up hastily to meet us and then fell down on their backs behind us.
-030- Usually these imaginary, clean killings took place at night, and involved sentries. I saw myself rising up out of the darkness, deft and silent as a cat, and at the last moment saying something, making some sound, just to give poor Fritz a chance. He would whirl about, fumbling for his rifle, his eyes flashing in equine fear, and I would smile at him, briefly, coldly, before the knife went in and he collapsed on the grass in a puddle of his own black blood…
-031- I suffered his jibes with forbearance; it is the price one pays for intellectual superiority.
-032- I have always been fascinated by the hunger for documentation shared by all great institutions, especially those run by supposed men of action, such as the Army, or the Secret Service. I cannot count the times I was able to foil this or that inconvenient development at the Department, not be removing or suppressing documents, but by adding new ones to an already bulging file.
-033- I wonder what became of him, and if he survived the war. I have the feeling he did not. He was the kind of minor character that the gods test their blades on, before proceeding to deal with the Hectors and Agamemnons.
-034- I have tried to explain to her that the concept of bravery is entirely spurious. We are what we are, we do what we do. At school, when I first read Homer, what struck me about Achilles was his bone-headed stupidity. I was not stupid, and I was afraid, but I had sufficient self-control not to show it.
-035- Simply, I was there, and I kept my head. It was nothing to boast about. Anyway, the shameful scramble for home that was Dunkirk had too strong an overtone of slapstick to allow one at the time seriously to consider the possibility of violent death.
-036- I am always strangely moved by the smell of exhaust fumes on the morning air.
-037- ”Oh dear, I do hope they haven’t been looting. People tend to mind that sort of thing, especially the French.”
-038- I was pondering the question, which I have pondered before, of whether such great revelatory moments really so occur, or if it is only that, out of need, our lives so lacking in drama, we invest past events with a significance they do not warrant.
-039- Things, for me, have always been of more import than people.
-040- …never show eagerness, that is one of the first rules.
-041- ”No, no,” I heard myself say, “My father has died.”
I went back into the flat. The door closed behind me with a solemn thud; how obligingly at times like this the most commonplace procedures take on an air of pomp and finality.
-042- Freddie had always been fascinated by the sea, and would sit on the shingle for hours gazing out with rapt attention over this strange, unknowable, shifting element, as if he had once seen something rising out of it, a sea monster, or a tridented god, and was patiently waiting for it to appear again.
-043- It is always the most unexpected people who see through one.
-044- …sometimes I think I am no more than a cut-price Caligula, wishing the world had a single throat, so that I might throttle it at one go.
-045- The room looked like nothing so much as the inside of my own head: bone white, lit by a mad radiance, and thronged with lost and aimless figures who might be the myriad rejected versions of my self, of my soul.
-046- This weapon had nothing of the sleek, Luciferian elegance of my revolver.
-047- Soft morning, the pale sunlight of September, and, like a mirage shimmering at the very edge of vision, the limitless possibilities of the future; where do they come from, these moments of unlooked-for happiness?
-048- ”…something that has no past is not alive yet, is it. Life is memory; life is the past.” … “…Such a perfect statement of your philosophy! Whereas to human beings, darling, life is the present, the present and the future. Don’t you see?”
-049- I thought how this moment—night, storm, this lighted, hurtling little world in which we were sealed—would never come again, and I was pierced with strange sorrow.
-050- The imagination has no sense of the inappropriate.
-051- Then something opened in me, briefly, frighteningly, as if a little window had been thrown open on to a vast, far, dark, deserted plain.
-052- Love, I have always found, is most intense when its object is unworthy of it.
-053- One must not whine. It is the first rule of the Stoics.
-054- I remember him once saying, when he was drunk, that a sense of humour is nothing but the other face of despair; I believe that was true of him, although I am not sure that humour is the word to apply to that malignantly playful way he had of toying with the world. Despair is not quite the word either, though I cannot think what is. I never thought that he believed in anything, really, despite all his high talk of faith and prayer and sanctifying grace.
-055- A man and his dog. Good God. Everyone must have something to love, some little scrap of life. I went back up the steps, ashamed to have to acknowledge that I felt more sorrow for the dog than I did for the man. What a thing it is, the human heart.
-056- There was something wrong, something too deliberate, too self-conscious, in these occasions of intense contemplation. A suspicion of fraudulence always attended the moment. I seemed to be looking not at the pictures, but at myself looking at them.
-057- I am always attracted to drivers; there is something strangely stirring in that intent, unmoving way they sit over the wheel, so stern and somehow stately, keeping themselves to themselves.
-058- the American system itself, so demanding, so merciless, undeluded as to the fundamental murderousness and venality of humankind and at the same time so grimly, unflaggingly optimistic.
-059- Altberg, an unreally picturesque village clinging to the edge of a rocky eminence above the Danube and overlooked by the castle, a tall, turreted nineteenth-century horror, of no architectural interest. There was a drawbridge spanning a deep cleft in the rock, and above the gate a stone plaque bore a carved posy of Tudor roses. In the narrow, lopsided courtyard a pair of hunting dogs, enormous, starved-looking brutes, pricked up their ears and regarded us with truculent surprise.
-060- It occurred to me that on other planets there might be organisms of such delicate refinement that to them human life, even at its most developed, would surely seem a state of unremitting agony and insanity and squalor.
-061- This is the fundamental fact of artistic creation, the putting in place of something where otherwise there would be nothing. (Why did he paint it?–Because it was not there.)
-062- Like all totalitarians, they had a very low regard for those who helped them most.
-063- When you live the kind of life that I was living, reason makes many questionable deals with itself.
-064- In every wrongdoer there lurks the desire to be caught.
-065- I looked it up just now; really, the dictionary is full of delightful surprises. Malignant, according to the O.E.D., derives from the “late L. malignantem, malignare, -ari,” and its first cited definition is, “Disposed to rebel; disaffected, malcontent.” However, I am also informed that the word was applied “between 1641 and 1690 by the supporters of the Parliament and the Commonwealth to their adversaries.” In other words, a “malignant” was a Cavalier, or a Royalist. This discovery provoked in me a delighted chuckle. A malcontent, and a Royalist. How accommodating the language is. Other definitions are: “having an evil influence”; “keenly desirous of the misfortune of another, or of other generally”; and of course, this time according to Chambers, “tending to cause death, or to go from bad to worse, esp. cancerous.”
-066- All the talk now is of freedom and pride (pride!), but these young hotheads in their pink bell-bottoms, clamouring for the right to do it in the streets if they feel like it, do not seem to appreciate, or at least seem to wish to deny, the aphrodisiac properties of secrecy and fear.
-067- …you must start acting the moment they challenge you, not when you are already in the car, with the cuffs on. Or rather, you must never stop acting, not for an instant, even when you are alone, in a locked room, with the lights off and the blankets over your head.
-068- ”But what you mean by everything,” I said, “is nothing to me. To be capable of betraying something you must first believe in it.”
-069- ”Nick was not terribly observant, you know. Vain people tend not to be…” “All those years and he never noticed a thing. Vanity, you see. Whatever he looked at turned immediately into a mirror…” … Blanche is more tolerant of [my gayness] than Julian is; women don’t really take sex seriously. She is very tender and considerate of my feelings—for I do have feelings, despite appearances to the contrary—but I’m sure she too must think I betrayed her mother. Oh, families!

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