I’ve watched writers, composers, and painters knocking off their “works” with their left hands. Nice people, most of them. Artists are generally pleasant people, childlike both in love and hate, intending no harm when they turn out bad paintings, compositions, or books. Indeed, their ambition guarantees that they will do the best they know how to do or think they ought to do. The error is less in their objects than in their objectives. “Art is play, or partly play,” they’ll tell you with an engaging smile, serving up their non-nutritious fare with the murderous indifference of a fat girl serving up hamburgers. What they say is true enough, as far as it goes, and nothing is more tiresome than the man who keeps hollering, “Hey, let’s be serious!” but that is what we must holler.

– John Gardner, On Moral Fiction (1979)


Britannia S1E1


CAIT: How many are there?

DIVIS: Around twenty thousand, with more on the way.

CAIT: How do you know?

DIVIS: Because I went to the underworld and I spoke to some people I know there, people who can see everything, and they told me.

CAIT: You went to the underworld.

DIVIS. Yesterday. It’s a long story. One I am forbidden to tell you.

Rather impertinently, perhaps, you could summarise the preoccupations of the Jewish-American novel in one word: ‘shiksas’ (literally, ‘detested things’). It transpired that there was something uniquely riveting about the conflict between the Jewish sensibility and the temptations – the inevitabilities – of materialist America. As one Bellow narrator puts it, ‘At home, inside the house, an archaic rule; outside, the facts of life’. The archaic rule is sombre, blood-bound, guilt-torn, renunciatory, and transcendental; the facts of life are atomised, unreflecting, and unclean.

– Martin Amis, “Saul Bellow, As Opposed to Henry James,” The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump. Essays and Reportage, 1994-2016 (2017)

In a democratic culture people are inclined to believe that it is presumptuous to claim to have better taste than your neighbour. By doing so you are implicitly denying his right to be the thing that he is. You like Bach, she likes U2; you like Leonardo, he likes Mucha; she likes Jane Austen, you like Danielle Steele. Each of you exists in his own enclosed aesthetic world, and so long as neither harms the other, and each says good morning over the fence, there is nothing further to be said.

But things are not so simple, as the democratic argument already implies. […] It is part of our rational nature to strive for a community of judgement, a shared conception of value, since that is what reason and the moral life require. And this desire for a reasoned consensus spills over into the sense of beauty.

– Roger Scruton, Beauty (2009)

‘I wish I weren’t English’: of all the fake tags affixed to my name, this is the one I greet with the deepest moan of inanition. I suggest that the remark – and its equivalent in any language or any alphabet – is unutterable by anyone whose IQ reaches double figures. ‘I wish I weren’t North Korean’ might make a bit of sense, assuming the existence of a North Korean sufficiently well-informed and intrepid to give voice to it. Otherwise and elsewhere, the sentiment is inconceivably null. And for a writer to say it of England – the country of Dickens, George Eliot, Blake, Milton, and, yes, William Shakespeare – isn’t even perverse. It is merely twee.

– Martin Amis, “He’s Leaving Home,” The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump. Essays and Reportage, 1994-2016 (2017)

“Internet freedom” has become a highly emotional but completely meaningless shibboleth that hucksters of all stripes have begun to exploit for their own purposes. […] There’s a good chance that today’s copyright laws are unjust and inadequate—but this needs to be empirically demonstrated, not simply assumed from their supposed incompatibility with the spirit of “the Internet.” The reason why copyright reform and protection of anonymity are important is very simple: backed by smart legislation, they would provide many more opportunities for human flourishing. It’s the flourishing of humans—not of “the Internet”—that should preoccupy the Pirates.

Yes, digital technologies simultaneously threaten and enable such human flourishing, and it’s important to bring new, younger, more knowledgeable voices to help improve policy making about their future, but the Pirates are on the wrong path with their aim to defend “Internet freedom.” The term’s ambiguity aside, its value will always be instrumental, not intrinsic: we value “Internet freedom” because, in many cases, it will lead to “human freedom.” Occasionally it will not, in which case there is nothing pathological or regressive about curtailing it.

– Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything Click Here (2013)

We are familiar with the idea that people can share the same sensation although they react somewhat differently. One can stub one’s toe one day, and make a fearful fuss about it, but do the same thing, and feel the same pain, another day and bravely smile and carry on. Behaviour is not a transparent guide to sensations, thoughts, or feelings. (That is the point of the joke about two behaviourists in bed: `That was great for you, how was it for me?’)

– Simon Blackburn, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (1999)

Do you wonder where poetry comes from? Where do we get the songs we sing and the tales we tell? Do you ever ask yourself how it is that some people can dream great, wise, beautiful dreams and pass those dreams on as poetry to the world, to be sung and retold as long as the moon will wax and wane? Have you ever wondered why some people make beautiful songs and poems and tales, and some of us do not?

It is a long story, and it does no credit to anyone: there is murder in it, and trickery, lies and foolishness, seduction and pursuit. Listen.

– Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (2017)

The shape of power is always the same: it is infinite, it is complex, it is forever branching. […] The closer you look, the more various it becomes. However complex you think it is, it is more complex than that. Like the rivers to the ocean, like the lightning strike, it is obscene and uncontained.

– Naomi Alderman, The Power (2016)

The fact that people have generally rejected racial determinism by saying that an individual is not necessarily possessed of some negative trait because he belongs to a particular ascriptive racial category doesn’t mean that people have rejected the idea that he is likely to be possessed of some negative trait because he belongs to that group or is perceived to belong to that group. Tanya Hernandez refers to this as the “Latin Americanization” of race in the United States, referring to how racial inequality in the United States is beginning to operate the way it has historically in much of Latin America, where, while it is not deterministic and not shaped by a rigid system of classification and articulated ideology, it is nonetheless widespread and demonstrable through economic stratification, aesthetics, and bigotry.

– Imani Perry, More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (2011)