Everything you’ve ever read has crawled into some quiet brain corner full of subconscious brain goo and got stuck there. These words are waiting quietly, ready to poke you with some big stick when they decide that they feel relevant. That’s my theory anyway. And it’s probably not a very good theory at that, because it’s based entirely on anecdotal evidence (when I was 17 I realised that I could recite the entirety of Larkin’s This Be The Verse without the slightest memory of when I’d learnt it). I think it’s eerie, to be honest. In the same way there is something eerie about notions of the subconscious in general; it’s scary to think how things you are not consciously aware of about can affect the way you act. So, I started collecting the words consciously – compiling lists of quotes that I figured would probably stick about in my subconscious brain goo anyway, so I might as well try to remember them consciously too.
I can’t say that any of these quotes work well together, nor does their order bare any significance. Nonetheless, here are my favourite quotations from things I read in February 2019.
‘Their opponents were people who were content with their lives in the high-rise, who felt no particular objection to an impersonal steel and concrete landscape, no qualms about the invasion of their privacy by government agencies and data-processing organizations, and if anything welcomed these invisible intrusions, using them for their own purposes. These people were the first to master a new kind of late twentieth-century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed.’ (High-Rise, JG Ballard)
‘Capitalism is an effervescent elixir. People clamour to catch a lift upward on the latest bubble even though deep down, most know there is only air beneath them.’ (Tribune magazine)
‘It was like having a corpse buried deep in your backyard: though you think you’re free of it, you always know it’s there, and more importantly, you always know that you know. Later you learn that to truly be free of it, you have to dig it up out of your backyard, carry it to some faraway place, and burn it, but you don’t have the mental energy to do that. The deeper its buried, the harder it is for you to dig it up, since you can’t dare imagine what it may have become while underground’ (I don’t remember where this is from I’m a mess)
‘Ideas on earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity. The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything. They even had a saying about the futility of ideas: ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’ And then Earthlings discovered tools. Suddenly agreeing with friends could be a form of suicide or worse. But agreements went on, not for the sake of common sense or decency or self-preservation, but for friendliness. Earthlings went on being friendly, when they should have been thinking instead. And even when they built computers to do some thinking for them, they designed them not so much for wisdom as for friendliness. So they were doomed. Homicidal beggars could ride.’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘Above all, it was there subtle patronage that kept the middle ranks in line, this constantly dangling carrot of friendship and approval’ (High-Rise, JG Ballard)
‘The ragged skyline of the city resembled the disturbed encephalograph of an unresolved mental crisis’ (High-Rise, JG Ballard)
‘I somersaulted lazily and pleasantly through the void, which is my hiding place when I dematerialise.’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘You are pooped and demoralised. Why wouldn’t you be? Of course it’s exhausting, having to reason all the time in a universe which wasn’t meant to be reasonable’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or any human being, that we were all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide. For want of anything better to do, we became fans of collisions.’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘He had come all this way for an orgy of masochism’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘There is no order in the world around us, and we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘Gibberish sprinkled with question marks Bad chemicals and bad ideas were the ying and yang of madness’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘A representative of all those thousands of artists who devoted their entire lives to a search for truth and beauty – and didn’t find doodley-squat.’ (Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut)
‘Anyway, she says. How are you?
He knows the question is meant honestly. He’s not someone who feels comfortable confiding in others, or demanding things from them. He needs Marianne for this reason. This fact strikes him newly. Marianne is someone he can ask things of. Even though there are certain difficulties and resentments in their relationship, the relationship carries on. This seems remarkable to him now, and almost moving.’ (Normal People, Sally Rooney)
‘When he coughed he shit thin gruel. This was in accordance with the third law of motion according to Sir Isaac Newton.’ (Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut)
‘She was a dull person but a sensational invitation to make babies’ (Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut)
‘If other people knew about it, the sickness would become real and I would have to spend my life as a sick person. This could only interfere with my other ambitions, such as achieving enlightenment and being a fun girl.’ (Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney)
‘There is a morally significant difference between rescuing someone from a burning building and dropping him from a 11th storey window in the process’ (Moral Luck, Nagel)
‘Like I could master the distress through intellectual dominance’ (Mr. Salary, Sally Rooney)
‘I felt my body begin to go cold, or perhaps hot. Something happened to the temperature of my body that didn’t feel good’ (Mr Salary, Sally Rooney)
‘Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female excellence, that I do not mean to add a paradox when I assert that this artificial weakness produces a propensity to tyrannize, and gives birth to cunning, the natural opponent of strength, which leads them to play off those contemptible infantile airs that undermine esteem even whilst they exercise desire.’ (Mary Wollstonecraft)
‘Harry: “You always look your best to me”
Betty: “I shall get drunk”’ (Cloud 9, Caryl Churchill)
‘What happens after death is like what happens to a fist when your hand opens’ (Alan Watts)
If you enjoyed these and like the idea of reading more, I email out my favourite quotes (like this) at the end of every month. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add you the mailing list.
Written by Tilda Law
Featured image – Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Untitled’, 1980, courtesy of hyperallergic.com