Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say ‘going through the motions’—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.
This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.
“Andy Warhol—I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this—would clear all his desktop objects into a carton, seal it, mark the date, and start over. How often I don’t know. Seasonally, let’s say. And I don’t know whether this was intended as an art project, or as a nostalgia project, or whether he was simply defeating clutter in a very reasonable way. But the thrill, maybe, is in aging ordinary objects into interesting things.”—Jason Schwartz interviewed at BOMB
“A desk, a chair, pens, pencils, a writing machine of one kind or another, and time, lots of time, more time than most people can stand to imagine, in some room or another: these are the writer’s tools. Add place, less easy to define, the where you came from, the where you were exiled from, the where you would rather be, and what is just out the window.”—Stanley Crawford, “A Writer’s Rooms”
“To thinking, cogitation, I oppose fullness, embodiedness, the sensation of being - not a consciousness of yourself as a kind of ghostly reasoning machine thinking thoughts, but on the contrary the sensation - a heavily affective sensation - of being a body with limbs that have extension in space, of being alive to the world.”—J.M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (via infra-thin)
“Thoreau and Weil were writers coming out of the Romantic tradition. For me, the Romantic movement was an attempt to create a wisdom literature for the West. A good part of that wisdom had to do with returning us to the immediacy of the world. As a poetic technique this has come to be known as defamiliarization. What it attempts to do is to destroy the world of custom, habit, stereotype, and ideology so that we can see things for what they are, so that we can see and feel the stone’s stoniness. When Walt Whitman says that his poetry is about leaves of grass, he is essentially saying, We have not been attentive. We need to look again at this leaf of grass. He wrote, ‘Bring all the art and science of the world, and baffle and humble it with one spear of grass.’”—Curtis White, The Science Delusion | Tricycle (via)
“A poem may mesmerize us through special wordplay, the magic of punning, or the sleight of hand of technique and performance, it may captivate us as a congeries of peculiar oneiric fantasies and seduce us by conjuring a tableau of exotic creatures of the imagination—all this, however, says little about the surplus value of its mysteriousness. However one my define poems, and even if one sees them, as I do, first and foremost as musical scores that stimulate us into experiencing our psychic limits, their secret remains their secret remains their secret… and so on.”—Durs Grunbein, “The Poem and its Secret”
“The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”—T. S. Eliot, “The Perfect Critic" (via grandhotelabyss)
“I don’t know what’s the matter with me—why I’m so adept at distance, why I feel so remote from things, why life feels like a rumor.”—From How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields. (via sashawantsmore)