building blocks

The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge

“This book first arose out of a passage in [Jorge Luis] Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.”


The thin road screwed

Into hills; all ended

Journeys were somewhere,

But far, far.


The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter 

To regard the frost and the boughs 
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; 

And have been cold a long time 
To behold the junipers shagged with ice, 
The spruces rough in the distant glitter 

Of the January sun; and not to think 
Of any misery in the sound of the wind, 
In the sound of a few leaves, 

Which is the sound of the land 
Full of the same wind 
That is blowing in the same bare place 

For the listener, who listens in the snow, 
And, nothing himself, beholds 
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


Wallace Steven


A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.



The Rider

by Naomi Shihab Nye


The Little Maginot Line

I’m becoming obsessed by the Alpine fortifications against Mussolini’s Italian army, but this guy is way ahead of me.


How do you convey all the snares and banquets, peaks and deadfalls, of a difficult but intermittently joyous life like Parker’s? You get on stage and blow, and shape something so expressive, so technically ferocious, so emotionally acute, it obviates any need for oh-by-the-way footnotes.


He is as much concerned with ecstasy and suffering as with technical achievement. He takes triumph and death in his stride…

From the Guardian review of Conquistadors of the Useless by Lionel Terray


There is no… reason for believing that the truth, when it is discovered, will necessarily prove interesting.”


…there are four things that, particularly, beginning writers should do to make sure they’ll be in that mode, ready to write. it takes two hours a day, and it’s just as important as the time you spend at your desk.

Spend half an hour every day doing yoga, or aerobics, or playing handball — something physical to keep you in your physical body. Writers tend to live too much in heir heads. Too, too many thoughts. You need to be grounded in your physical body.

Two, you should spend half an hour a day reading poetry. It could be prose, as long as it’s not something that’s directly related to what you’re doing. Not research, but something that will get you excited about language. And, again, that can be different for different sensibilities.

Another half-hour a day should be spent looking at clouds, looking at the sky. Not necessarily a cloudy sky; it could be a night sky, a starry sky. The reason for this is that most of the great philosophical ideas of humankind have come from the sky. Our notions of time, our notions of change, of religion, all came from looking at stars and clouds. It’s just very good discipline, philosophically and poetically, to look at the sky.

And then you should spend thirty minutes a day looking at dirty pictures. Or thinking about sex. The purpose of this is to get yourself sexually excited, which builds tremendous amounts of energy, then carry that into your work. Get yourself in that intense state of being next to madness. Keep yourself in, not necessarily a frenzied state, but in a stage of great intensity. The kind of state you would be in before going to bed with your partner. That heightened state when you’re in a carnal embrace: Time stops and nothing else matters. You should always write with an erection. Even if you’re a woman.

Tom Robbins on writing, from a long interview I did with him in the late ’90s, dredged up for the front page of

(Source: billstrickland)

"… there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

"This is the human paradox of altitude: that it both exalts the individual mind and erases it. Those who travel to mountain tops are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion."

Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind.