"Why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me—the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art."
Over spring break, I’ve been reading Stendhal’s Red and the Black (1830) and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard (1958), two novels which each, in their own way, are attempts to overwhelm the revolutions of the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries with exquisite, precise control of irony (couched as a familiar affection for the parvenu) and verbal intelligence.
I want to keep a few passages from the excellent Archibald Colquhon translation of The Leopard, and enter them here. Note (despite the Risorgimento setting) the strange traces of a language of modernization more appropriate to Tomasi’s own day—it’s a fascinating harmony of time periods:
In Sicily it doesn’t matter about doing things well or badly; the sin which we Sicilians never forgive is simply that of ‘doing’ at all. We are old, Chevalley, very old. For over twenty-five centuries we’ve been bearing the weight of superb and heterogeneous civilizations, all from outside, none made by ourselves, not that we could call our own… Sleep, my dear Chevalley, sleep, that is what Sicilians want, and they will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even in order to bring them the most wonderful of gifts: I must say, between ourselves, that I have strong doubts whether the new kingdom will have many gifts for us in its luggage. All Sicilian self-expression, even the most violent, is really wish-fulfillment; our sensuality is a hankering for oblivion, our shooting and knifing a hankering for death; our languor, our exotic ices, a hankering for voluptuous immobility, that is for death again; our meditative air is that of a void wanting to scrutinize the enigmas of Nirvana. From that comes the power among us of certain people, of those who are half awake: that is the cause of the well-known time lag of a century in our artistic and intellectual life; novelties attract us only when they are dead, incapable of arousing vital currents; from that comes the extraordinary phenomenon of the constant formation of myths which would be venerable if they were really ancient, but which are really nothing but sinister attempts to plunge us back into a past that attracts us only because it is dead…
Anyway, I’ve explained myself badly; I said Sicilians, I should have added Sicily, the atmosphere, the climate, the landscape of Sicily. Those are the forces which have formed our minds together with and perhaps more than alien pressure and varied invasions: this landscape which knows no mean between sensuous sag and hellish drought; which is never petty, never ordinary, never relaxed, as should be a country made for rational beings to live in… This violence of landscape, this cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything, and even these monuments of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because not built by us and yet standing round us like lovely mute ghosts; all those rulers who landed by main force from all directions, who were at once obeyed, soon detested and always misunderstood; their sole means of expression works of art we found enigmatic and taxes we found only too intelligible, and which they spent elsewhere. All these things have formed our character, which is thus conditioned by events outside our control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind.”
"I think I learned quite early that the judgments of my teachers were probably a report of their ignorance. In truth, my education was a systematic misleading. Ruskin was dismissed as a dull, preacherly old fart who wrote purple prose. In a decent society the teacher who led me to believe this would be tried, found guilty, and hanged by the thumbs while being pelted with old eggs and cabbage stalks"
Guy Davenport’s essay “On Reading” in The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art (Washington: Counterpoint, 1997), pp. 19-31.
"Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live."
“My co-worker noticed that I had some downtime at work, and suggested that I start my own tumblr using literary quotes. I really liked the idea, but then I realized that a quote from literature can be so much more appealing if it has a photo of Joan Holloway attached to it. So that’s how the idea of Slaughterhouse 90210 was born. (Rejected blog titles: Full House of Mirth, Catch-227).
“As the blog evolved over the years, my main goal became getting books back into pop culture discussions right alongside Mad Men and Jersey Shore. In my own little way I wanted to propagate the notion that books are still a vital part of the way we live now.”
"A book, even a fragmentary one, has a center which attracts it. This center is not fixed, but is displaced by the pressure of the book and circumstances of its composition. Yet it is also a fixed center which, if it is genuine, displaced itself, while remaining the same and becoming always more hidden, more uncertain and more imperious."