15 November 2011

Epigraphs for an Imaginary Novel

Going through notes for old pieces of writing, I discovered this collection of quotations I hoped to sprinkle through a piece of long fiction I was outlining ten years ago. The story itself never came to anything, but some shadowy traces of it remain in the collage...



If the New World fed dreams, what was the Old World reality that whetted the appetite for them?  And how did that reality caress and grip the shaping of a new one?
—Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark


Why is it so inconceivable to our dramatists that some people do not know, or care, how they feel all the time?  That some people act with a detachable motive, or from a myriad of contradictory ones?  Why is life itself less interesting per se than explanations of life?
—Mac Wellman, “The Theater of Good Intentions”


There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.  And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces.  And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick


It is the private dominion over things that condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities, living corpses without originality or power of initiative, human machines of flesh and blood, who pile up mountains of wealth for others and pay for it with a gray, dull and wretched existence for themselves.  I believe that there can be no real wealth, social wealth, so long as it rests on human lives — young lives, old lives and lives in the making.
—Emma Goldman, “What I Believe”


I have carried out, before my own eyes and against my intention, a part of the modern tragedy: I have made a lasting flaw in the face of the earth, for no lasting good.
—Wendell Berry, “Damage”


A great idea springs up in a man’s soul; it agitates his whole being, transports him from the ignorant present and makes him feel the future in a moment....Why should such a revelation be made to him...if not that he should carry it into practice?
—William Walker, president of Nicaragua, 1855-1857


If we confine the concept of weeds to species adapted to human disturbance, then man is by definition the first and primary weed under whose influence all other weeds have evolved.
—Jack R. Harlan, Crops and Man


Faith defies logic and propels us beyond hope because it is not attached to our desires.  Faith is the centerpiece of a connected life.  It allows us to live by the grace of invisible strands.  It is a belief in a wisdom superior to our own.  Faith becomes a teacher in the absence of fact.
—Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge


Of what consequence, though our planet explode, if there is no character involved in the explosion?
—Henry David Thoreau, “Life without Principle”


I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences: i.e., real contradictions, with something being both true & not true.
—Philip K. Dick, Exegesis, 1979


For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity.  God keep me from ever completing anything.  This whole book is but a draught — nay, but the draught of a draught.  Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick


My favorite melodramatic theme: the harried anarchist, a wounded wolf, struggling toward the green hills, or the black-white alpine mountains, or the purple-golden desert range and liberty.  Will he make it?  Or will the FBI shoot him down on the very threshold of wilderness and freedom?
—Edward Abbey, journal, December 1951


To argue from analogy, every thing around us is in a progressive state; and when an unwelcome knowledge of life produces almost a satiety of life, and we discover by the natural course of things that all that is done under the sun is vanity, we are drawing near the awful close of the drama.
—Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman


When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted himself, and how religiously, and then reflect to what cause his judges and all who condemn him so angrily and fluently devote themselves, I see that they are as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder.
—Henry David Thoreau, “A Plea for Captain John Brown”


You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.
—Abigail Adams, November 27, 1775

3 comments:

  1. Great quotes, Matt. I'm a big fan of the Melville quotes--"time, strength, cash, patience" is the mantra of any writer.

    I may steal one or two. I love the Goldman and the Abigail Adams.

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  2. Glad you like them, John. (Abigail Adams and Emma Goldman are two favorites of mine for all sorts of things.) I will admit, when I saw the quotes again, I thought, "Oh, John Kessel will be happy with me for the Melvilles!" I think because of reading "Another Orphan" when it came out as a Tor double a couple years ago, I've pretty much always associated you with Moby Dick. (The book, not the creature!)

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  3. The eagle quote by Melville is great--glad to see it unearthed (if one can use the term 'unearthed' in reference to Moby Dick).--Eric S.

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