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May 30, 2007

a head full of question marks

I asked him whether the pursuit of philosophy required any special gifts. At first he was not sure…What is required is a passionate interest and one that does not fail…A philosopher is someone with a head full of question marks. This seemed to him the essence.

O. K. Bouwsma on Wittgenstein

Posted by amin at 2:22 PM

May 29, 2007

and it’s a very good thing, literature

And it’s a very good thing, literature, a very good thing…a profound thing! A thing that strengthens people’s heart, instructs…literature is a picture, that is in a certain way a picture and a mirror; the expression of passion, a kind of subtle criticism, an exhortation to edification and a document.

You perhaps would like to know how I occupy myself when I am not writing? I read. I read an awful lot, and reading has a strange effect on me. I will read through something I read a long time ago and it is as though I am wound up with new powers. I pay attention to everything, understand everything clearly, and draw from it the ability to create for myself.


Posted by amin at 11:07 PM

May 25, 2007

the vocation of the intellectual

I understand the vocation of the intellectual as trying to turn easy answers into critical questions and putting those critical questions to people with power. The quest for truth, the quest for the good, the quest for the beautiful all require us to let suffering speak, let victims be visible and social misery be put on the agenda of those with power. So to me, pursuing the life of the mind is inextricably linked with the struggle of those who have been dehumanized on the margins of society.

Cornel West

Posted by amin at 1:10 AM

May 24, 2007

the immense force of belief

“It cannot be claimed that we are lacking in belief. The mere fact of our being alive is an inexhaustible font of belief.”
“The fact of our being alive a font of belief? But what else can we do but live?”
“It’s in that ‘what else’ that the immense force of belief resides: it is the exclusion that gives it its form.”


Posted by amin at 12:23 AM

May 23, 2007

the relationship to one’s fellow man is the relationship of prayer

Humility gives everyone, even the lonely and the desperate, his strongest tie to his fellow men. Immediately and spontaneously, too, albeit only if the humility is complete and lasting. It does so because it is the language of prayer and is both worship and tie. The relationship to one’s fellow man is the relationship of prayer; the relationship to oneself is the relationship of striving; out of prayer is drawn the strength with which to strive.

It isn’t necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.


Posted by amin at 12:14 AM

May 22, 2007

strand on documentary photography

In my understanding, documentary photography means an interest in the life and times in which you live-what’s happening to the people and the society around you. Very often, what you might call the fine arts ignore this aspect. On the whole, I am attracted to those artists who are interested in a large panorama, and not to those who are strictly concerned with their personal likes and dislikes. I am attracted to those who are more interested in everything that exists outside of themselves. That is the final source of all the best art, and it’s a source which has hardly been tapped.

Paul Strand

Posted by amin at 3:58 PM

May 21, 2007

other peoples have saints; the greeks have sages...

Other peoples have saints; the Greeks have sages. It has been rightly said that a people is characterized not as much by its great men as by the way in which it recognizes and honors its great men. In other times and places, the philosopher is a chance wanderer, lonely in a totally hostile environment which he either creeps past or attacks with clenched fist. Among the Greeks alone, he is not an accident.

Their thinking and their character stand in a relationship characterized by strictest necessity. They are devoid of conventionality, for in their day there was no philosophic or academic professionalism. All of them, in magnificent solitude, were the only ones of their time whose lives were developed to insight alone. They all possessed that virtuous energy of the ancients, herein excelling all men since, which led them to find their own individual form and to develop it through all its metamorphoses to its subtlest and greatest possibilities.

Nietzsche - Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks

Posted by amin at 4:51 PM

May 20, 2007


Wanting to give everyone a sense of equality is not leveling him down, but exalting his solidarity. Lack of solidarity is always born from presuming to be different, from a But: “Paul is suffering, it’s true. I am suffering, too, but my suffering has something that…my nature has something that…” and so on. The But must disappear, and we must be able to say: “That man is bearing what I myself should bear in the same circumstances.”

Cesare Zavattini - Some Ideas on the Cinema

Posted by amin at 11:35 PM

May 19, 2007

a vision of the infinite

Thomas Mann, recounting in his story the 'difficult hour' through which the young Schiller struggled to complete a poem, affirmed, in biblical language, that the finished work contained, not just the artist's humanity, but something of the divinity that the artist was privileged to know:

And it was finished, the labour of suffering...And when it was finished, behold, it was good. And then out of his soul, out of music and idea, new works struggled forth, ringing and gleaming structures, which in sacred form wondrously granted a vision of the infinite source from which they came-just as, in the shell that has been fished out of the sea, the roar of the sea can still be heard.

M. Owen Lee

Posted by amin at 12:47 AM

May 18, 2007

he fell to the earth a weak youth and rose up a fighter

It was as if threads from all those innumerable worlds of God came together in his soul, and it was trembling all over, 'touching other worlds.' He wanted to forgive everyone and for everything, and to ask forgiveness, oh, not for himself! but for all and everything, 'as others are asking for me,' rang again in his soul. But for each moment he felt clearly and almost tangibly something as firm and immovable as this heavenly vault descend into his soul. Some sort of idea, as it were, was coming to reign in his mind-now for the whole of his life and unto ages of ages. He fell to the earth a weak youth and rose up a fighter, steadfast for the rest of his life, and he knew it and felt it suddenly, in that very moment of his ecstacy. Never, never in all his life would he forget that moment. 'Someone visited my soul in that hour,' he would say afterwards, with firm belief in his words...

Dostoevsky - The Brothers Karamazov

Posted by amin at 12:05 AM

May 16, 2007

we are all miracles

You are a miracle Ronnie; we are all miracles. Do you know why? Because as humans, everyday we go about our business, at all that time we know, we all know, that the things we love, the people we love, at any time can all be taken away. We live knowing that and we keep going anyway. Animals don’t do that.

Tom Perrotta - Little Children

Posted by amin at 2:01 PM

May 15, 2007


Kundera tells a fascinating story that genuinely impressed me: he relates how his father’s lexical range was diminished with age and, at the end of his life, was reduced to two words: “It’s strange! It’s strange!” Of course, he hadn’t reached that point because he had nothing much to say anymore but because those two words effectively summed up his life’s experience. They were the very essence of it. Perhaps that’s the story behind minimalism too…

Abbas Kiarostami

Posted by amin at 6:02 PM

May 13, 2007

in every heart there is at least one germ of goodness

In every heart there is at least one germ of goodness. I would cultivate that, by every gentle, and kind, and appropriate means; making its practice and development become a pleasure, not less than a duty…I would, with God’s help, train up the tender-hearted child to be just, the just one to be merciful, the veracious one to add graciousness to truth, the heroic one to be moderate in triumph, and the magnanimous one to be powerful as well as endurant. In every assemblage of youth, all these good qualities are to be found, like gems strewed in darkness.

Children would understand this kind of religion better; they would love it better, they would imbibe it sooner, than the present one

Of sermonizing and catechizing,
And bell-ringing, and drone-singing,
And knee-bowing, and pride-showing,
Of vain finery, and mock shinery.

I would not have it all lip-worship, and form-worship; but heart-worship, coming from the heart, and heart-penetrative, wherever it was introduced. I would, in fact, have less of priestianity, and more of Christ’s own Christianity; less of creeds and dogmas, and more of the living faith which brings forth works, testifying to the reality of a true belief.

Samuel Bamford - Autobiography

Posted by amin at 11:49 PM

May 11, 2007

the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular

‘I love mankind,’ he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is individually, as separate persons. 'In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,’ he said. On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.’

Dostoevsky - The Brothers Karamazov

Posted by amin at 6:26 PM

May 10, 2007

actors and the audiance

I thought that to be convincing, you had to find faces that the audience didn’t know. Faces that they had no attachments to. Faces that were not familiar to the audience. I think it’s dangerous to the story if the audience can recognize an actor from a previous movie. He carries the story from the other film, the costumes from before, even the make-up of the previous movie.

Federico Fellini

Posted by amin at 11:10 PM

May 9, 2007

people love so long as they cannot judge

Nothing is more bizarre, more ticklish, than a relationship between two people who know each other only with their eyes-who encounter, observe each other daily, even hourly, never greeting, constrained by convention or by caprice to keep acting the indifferent strangers. They experience discomfort and overwrought curiosity, the hysteria of an unsatisfied, unnaturally stifled need to recognize and to exchange, and they especially feel something like a tense mutual esteem. For people love and honor someone so long as they cannot judge him, and yearning is a product of defective knowledge.

Thomas Mann - Death in Venice

Posted by amin at 1:22 PM

May 8, 2007

art is a more sublime life

Art is, after all, a more sublime life. It delights more deeply, it consumes more swiftly. It carves the traces of the imaginary, intellectual adventures into the features of its servant, and despite the monastic stillness of his outward life, it eventually brings about a fussiness and overrefinement, a weariness and nervous curiosity such as can scarcely evolve from a lifetime of dissolute passions and pleasures.

Thomas Mann - Death in Venice

Posted by amin at 1:11 PM

May 7, 2007

a loner who seldom speaks

The observations and encounters of a loner who seldom speaks are both more nebulous and more penetrating than those of a gregarious man; his thoughts are more intense, more peculiar, and never without a touch of sadness. Images and perceptions, which might easily be brushed aside with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions, occupy his mind unduly; they are deeper in silence, take on significance, become experience, adventure, emotion. Solitude ripens originality in us, bold and disconcerting beauty. But solitude also ripens the perverse, the asymmetrical, the absurd, the forbidden.

Thomas Mann - Death in Venice

Posted by amin at 1:00 PM

May 5, 2007

russell on wittgenstein

He was perhaps the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating. He had a kind of purity which I have never known equaled except by G.E Moore. I remember taking him once to a meeting of the Aristotelian Society, at which there were various fools whom I treated politely. When we came away he raged and stormed against my immoral degradation in not telling these men what fools they were. His life was turbulent and troubled, and his personal force was extraordinary.

He used to come to see me every evening at midnight, and pace up and down the room like a wild beast for three hours in agitated silence. Once I said to him: “Are you thinking about logic, or about your sins?” “Both”, he replied, and continued his pacing. I did not like to suggest it was time for bed, for it seemed probable both to him and to me that on leaving me he would commit suicide.

At the end of his first term at Trinity, he came to me and said: “Do you think I am an absolute idiot?” I said: “Why do you want to know?” He replied: “Because if I am I shall become an aeronaut, but if I’m not I shall become a philosopher.” I said to him: “My dear fellow, I don’t know whether you are an absolute idiot or not, but if you will write me an essay during the vacation upon any philosophical topic that interests you, I will read it and tell you.” He did so, and brought it to me at the beginning of the next term. As soon as I read the first sentence, I became persuaded that he was a man of genius, and assured him that he should on no account become an aeronaut.

Bertrand Russell

Posted by amin at 3:35 PM

May 4, 2007

language and silence

Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence.

The ordinary man casts a shadow in a way we do not quite understand. The man of genius casts light.

The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital.

We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day's work at Auschwitz in the morning.

George Steiner

Posted by amin at 8:19 PM

May 2, 2007

schopenhauer on learning

Students and learned men of every kind and every age go as a rule are in search of information, not insight. They make it a point of honor to have information about everything: it does not occur to them that information is merely a means towards insight and possesses a little or no value in itself. When I see how much these well-informed people know, I sometimes say to myself: Oh, how little such a one must have had to think about, since he has had so much time for reading.

When you see the many and manifold institutions for teaching and learning and the great crowd of pupils and masters which throngs them you might think the human race was much occupied with wisdom and insight. But here too appearance is deceptive. The latter teach to earn money, and strive not for wisdom but for the appearance of it and to be credited with it; the former learn, not to achieve knowledge and insight, but so as to be able to chatter about them and give themselves airs.


Posted by amin at 5:55 PM