Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quips and Quotations

"You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. ... The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that -- well, lucky you. "

— Philip Roth American Pastoral


  1. Such a powerful quote here, Kirk, full of wonderful contradictions,jubilation and despair all rolled into one.

    I figure we can only ever get one another wrong because we can't even get ourselves right and if it's that hard within how could it possibly be better without. We are such complex beings it's a wonder we can get along at all. Ad yet often times we do.

  2. Read the novel "American Pastoral" if you ever get the chance, Elisabeth. The fictional character whom I'm quoting (it may not express how Philip Roth really feels) decides to write about an aquaintence anyway, in fictionalized form, in spite of his inability to really know him.

    That's one reason to write fiction. To speculate about those persons other than ourselves.

  3. I'd make an argument that sometimes we get some small element of another person so right that maybe we understand that small portion of them better than they do themselves. Sometimes, just once in awhile, we're able to meet and understand another without superimposing our own stuff upon them before we even meet. I believe that. My name may be Pollyanna, but I believe that. I have experienced it.

  4. I agree, Les. Like I said to Elisabeth, the quote is from a fictional character from a fictional story, whom, after uttering the quote, goes on to write a fictionalized story about someone he knows.

    When someone says something as a kind of statement of belief, and then acts in a completely contradictory manner, I can confidently say I know that person better than they know themselves...I think.

    By the way, in case anyone's wondering why I posted two things on the same day within minutes of each other, there's no connection other than my one post was a little on the seamy side, and I decided to balance it out Pulitzer Prize winner (I don't know if Mr. Roth will appreciate that)

  5. I appreciate a man who balances his seamy side with his intellectual and philosophical, Kirk.

    Oh, no. WV-synesess. Mine are a disaster from allergies.

  6. Brilliant. We all have our lenses and blinders and notions -- how we ever connect on anything is a mystery. I've read some Roth -- Goodbye Columbus and the other short stories that were in that collection, plus another couple of novels, the names of which escapes me. But not American Pastoral. Thanks for the recommendation. I also like your comment on one reason to write novels, to speculate on persons other than ourselves. I also think writers are trying to explore the parts of themselves they hide or don't know so well. Actually maybe that's somewhat the same thing...we only know others through what we know of ourselves? Hm.

  7. "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." ~Lao Tzu

    there isn't right or wrong, everything is subject to free interpretation.

    Great post!


  8. @Limes--I should join the circus.

    @Dreamfarm--Well, there's always good old-fashion conformity. Who hasn't at one time or other connected on THAT level?

    One advantage of exploring yourself through fiction is you blush a lot less.

  9. @Gabriela--Feel free to interpret over here anytime you want. Thanks for the comment and the quote.

  10. @Dreamfarm--Just re-read your comment (sorry, but I kind of quickly skimmed through it the first time) and I like what you said about exploring yourself through exploring others.