- Most marriages recognize this paradox: Passion destroys passion; we want what puts an end to wanting what we want.
- The Aristos (1964)
- ...even more ominous … is the fact that since the Second World War a new kind of intellectual has emerged in large numbers. … he is only minimally interested in the proper intellectual significance of images and objects. Such people are not really intellectuals, but visuals … A visual is more interested in style than in content … A visual does not feel a rioting crowd being machine-gunned by the police, he simply sees a brilliant news photograph.
- The Aristos (1964)
- The artefacts (sic) of a genius are distinguished by rich human content, for which he forges new images and new techniques, creates new styles. He sees himself as a unique eruption in the desert of the banal. He feels himself mysteriously inspired or possessed. The craftsman, on the other hand, is content to use the traditional materials and techniques. The more self-possessed he is, the better craftsman he will be. What pleases him is skill of execution. He is very concerned with his contemporary success, his market value. If a certain kind of political commitment is fashionable, he may be committed; but out of fashion, not conviction. The genius, of course, is largely indifferent to contemporary success; and his commitment to his ideals, both artistic and political, is profoundly, Byronically, indifferent to their contemporary popularity.
- The Aristos, no. 61
- There are only two races on this planet—the intelligent and the stupid.
- Daily Telegraph (London, August 15, 1991)
Introduction to The Magus (1965)
Boston: Little, Brown 1977 Edition
- There’s a card in the Tarot pack called The Magus. The magician, conjuror. Two of his traditional symbols are the lily and the rose.
- A novelist has to enter deeper exile still. In most outward ways the experience was depressive, as many young would-be writers and painters who have ever gone to Greece have discovered. We used to have a nickname for the sense of inadequacy and accidie it produced – the ‘Aegean blues’. One has to be a very complete artist to create good work among the purest and most balanced landscapes on the planet…The Greece of the Islands is Circe still; no place for the artist-voyager to linger long, if he cares for his soul.
- Years later I saw the gabbia at Piacenza; a harsh black canary-cage strung up high the side of the the towering campanile, in which prisoners were once left to starve to death and rot in full view of the town below. And looking up at it, I remembered that winter in Greece, that Gabbia I had constructed for myself out of light, solitude and self-delusions. My feelings at the end of that wretched term, were those of a man who knows he is in a cage, exposed to the jeers of all his old ambitions until he dies.
- I do not defend Conchis’ decision at the execution, but I defend the reality of the dilemma. God and freedom are totally anti-pathetic concepts; and men believe in their imaginary gods most often because they are afraid to believe in the other thing. I am old enough to realise now that they do sometimes with good reason. True freedom lies between each two, never in one alone, and therefore is never absolute freedom.
- If there was some central theme beneath the (more Irish than Greek) stew of intuitions about the nature of human existence – and of fiction – it is perhaps in the alternative title, whose rejection I still sometimes regret: The Godgame. I did intend Conchis to exhibit a series of masks representing human notions of God, from the supernatural to the jargon-ridden scientific, that is, a series of human illusions about something that does not exist in fact, absolute knowledge and absolute power. The destruction of such illusions seems to me still an eminently humanist aim; and I wish there were some super-Conchis who could put the Arabs and the Israelis, or the Ulster Catholics and Protestants, through the same heuristic mill as Nicholas.
- It must essentially remain a novel of adolescence written by a retarded adolescent.
Boston: Little, Brown 1977 edition
- If a person is intelligent, then of course he is either an agnostic or an atheist. Just as he is a physical coward. They are automatic definitions of high intelligence. Ch. 17
- Duty largely consists of pretending that the trivial is critical. Ch. 18
- Narcissism: when one grows too old to believe in one's uniqueness, one falls in love with one's complexity. Ch.2, Games
- I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria. (Opening Sentence) Ch. 1, p. 1
- He liked to be popular and in place of charm had to dispense alcohol…
- (The staff common room) was real boredom, not just modish ennui. Boredom, the numbing annual predictability of life, hung over the staff like a cloud. From it flowed cant, hypocrisy, and the impotent rage of the old who know they have failed and the young who suspect they will fail. The senior masters stood like Gallows sermons; with some of them one had a sort of vertigo, a glimpse of the bottomless pit of human futility...a sere notifier of what is.
- I was too green to know that all cynicism masks a failure to cope – an impotence, in short and to despise all effort is the greatest effort of all...
- I didn’t know at that time Emily Dickinson’s great definition, her 'Publication is not the business of poets’; being a poet is all, being known as a poet is nothing.
- I was not a poet. I felt no consolation in this knowledge, but only a red anger that evolution could allow such sensitivity and such inadequacy to coexist in the same mind. In one ego, my ego, screaming like a hare caught in a gin.
- One kind of person is engaged in society without realizing it; another kind engages in society by controlling it. The one is a gear, a cog, and the other an engineer, a driver. But a person who has opted out has only his ability to express his disengagement between his existence and nothingness. Not cogito, but scribo, ergo sum.
- I hated myself. I had created nothing, I belonged to nothingness, to the néant, and it seemed to me that my own death was the only thing that I could create; and still, even then, I thought it might accuse everyone who had ever known me. It would validate all my cynicism, it would prove all my solitary selfishness; it would stand, and be remembered, as a final dark victory.
- All the time I felt I was being watched, that I was not alone, that I was putting on an act for the benefit of someone, that this action could be done only if it was spontaneous, pure – and moral. Because more and more it crept through my mind with the chill spring night that I was trying to commit not a moral action, but a fundamentally aesthetic one; to do something that would end my life sensationally, significantly, consistently. It was a Mercutio death I was looking for, not a real one. A death to be remembered, not the true death of a true suicide, the death obliterate.
- I saw that I was from now on, for ever, contemptible. I had been and remained, intensely depressed, but I had also been, and always would be, intensely false; in existentialist terms, inauthentic. I knew I would never kill myself, I knew I would always want to go on living with myself, however hollow I became, however diseased.
- Her voice was completely English. For some reason I had expected a foreign accent; but I could place this exactly. It was my own; product of boarding school, university, the accent of what a sociologist once called the Dominant Hundred Thousand.
- We were equally tired, in mid-century, of cold sanity and hot blasphemy; of the over-cerebral and of the over-faecal; the way out lay somewhere else. Words had lost their power, either for good or for evil; still hung, like a mist, over the reality of action, distorting, misleading, castrating; but at least since Hitler and Hiroshima they were seen to be a mist, a flimsy superstructure.
- The battle was over. Our casualties were some thirteen thousand killed--thirteen thousand minds, memories, loves, sensations, worlds, universes--because the human mind is more a universe than the universe itself--and all for a few hundred yards of useless mud.
- I saw that this cataclysm must be an expiation for some barbarous crime of civilisation, some terrible human lie. What the lie was, I had too little knowledge of history to know then. I now know it was our believing that we were fulfilling some end, serving some plan, - that all would come out well in the end, because there was some great plan over all. Instead of the reality. There is no plan. All is hazard. And the only thing that will preserve us is ourselves.
- If you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did.
- There are people who have an instinctive yet perfect moral judgment, who can perform the most complex ethical calculations like an Indian peasant can sometimes perform astounding mathematical feats in a matter of seconds. Lily was such a person. I craved her approval.
- I am talking about the general psychological health of the species, man. He needs the existence of mysteries, not their solution.
- She seemed older to me, over-experienced by travel; needing to be learnt again, and I hadn’t the energy.
- She had a kind of genius for picking the wrong man. She always looked for poetry and passion and sensitivity, the whole romantic kitchen, whereas I lived by a simpler diet, prose and pudding. I don’t expect attractive men to have attractive souls.
- The writing was impeccably neat and legible though rather crabbed into the centre of the page; I saw a neat crabbed man behind it. Presumably some sort of retreat, one of those desiccated young Catholics that used to mince around Oxford when I was an undergraduate.
- The dinner that evening was dreadful, the epitome of English vacuity...they were all the same, each mind set in the same weird armour, like an archosaur’s ruff, like a fringe of icicles. All I heard the whole evening was the tinkle of broken ice-needles as people tried timidly and vainly to reach through the stale fence of words, tinkle, tinkle, and then withdraw. Nobody behaved with breadth, with warmth, with naturalness, and finally it became pathetic. We were all the same; I hardly said anything, but that made me no more innocent – or less conditioned. The solemn figures of the Old Country, the Queen, the Public School, Oxbridge, the Right Accent, People Like Us, stood around the table like secret police, ready to crush down in an instant on any attempt at an intelligent European humanity.* We…were held by those cloud-grey shapes on the world’s blue rim. Death machines holding thousands of gum-chewing, contraceptive-carrying men; for some reason more 30 years away than 30 miles; as if we were looking into the future, not the south; into a world where there were no more Prosperos, no private domains, no Poetries, fantasies, tender sexual promises...I felt acutely the fragility of time itself...
- Perhaps the clue lay in indispensibility. I was being taught some obscure metaphysical lesson about the place of man in existence, about the limitations of the egocentric view...
- It. Is. Not. Ended. There was just the trace of a humourless smile on his face; and more than a trace of menace. As if he meant something more than that there was a sequel to this scene; but that the whole Nazi weltanschaaung to be, resurrected and realised. He was an impressively iron man...
- To my horror I began to cry...a great cloud of black guilt, knowledge of my atrocious selfishness, settled on me. One day she had said “when you love me (and she had not meant ‘make love to me’) it’s as if God forgave me for being the mess I am”; and I took it as chicanery, another emotional blackmail, to make me feel essential and give me a sense of responsibility towards her...My monstrous crime was Adam’s, the oldest and most vicious of all – male selfishness...Something far worse than lèse majesté. Lèse-humanité.
- "You sound like a certain kind of surgeon. A lot more interested in the operation than the patient." "I should not be in the hands of a surgeon who did not take that view."
- All good science is art. And all good art is science.
- "I played him the Goldberg Variations. If one wishes to reduce a sensitive German to tears there is no surer lachrymatory."
- "I did not like the colonel at all. He had eyes like razors…the eyes of a machine. An educated machine… I realised he was drinking less than we were…And that he was playing with me. That he was a realist… Also that Anton was careless with his tongue..."
- There was a bright wind, it was a Dufy day, all bustle, movement, animated colour..
- Once again fear, and mystery, swept over me...I was infinitely far from home. The profoundest distances are never geographical...
- Hypotheses pinned me down, as Gulliver was pinned by the countless threads of the Lilliputians...
- So I strode down to the school like some vengence-brewing chieftain in an Icelandic saga...
- Though not large it had a certain elegance; a pilastered portico, windows with graceful pediments. The whitewashed façade was in shadow, a palid blue against the evening sky’s pale blue.
- I still couldn’t accept that this was not some nightmare, like some freak misbinding in a book, a Lawrence novel become, at the turn of a page, one by Kafka.
- I felt both a state of envy and contempt. The yacht itself was not vulgar, but I smelt something vulgar about owning it...A few moments later I set off back to my dull daily penal colony of an existence on the far side of the dream, as Adam left the Garden of Eden perhaps…except I knew there were no Gods, and nothing was going to bar my return...
- Pois eisai? She wanted to know. Pou pas? The old Homeric questions of the Greek peasant. Who art thou? Where goest thou?
- By this characteristically twentieth century retreat from content into form, from meaning into appearance, from ethics into aesthetics, from aqua into unda, I dulled the pain of accusing death, and hardened myself.
- Utram bibis? Aquam an undam?