Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Aphoristic & generally quotable
- "...male lust does not go very far for descriptive felicities!"
- "Ardis Hall—the Ardors and Arbors of Ardis—this is the leitmotiv rippling through Ada, an ample and delightful chronicle, whose principal part is staged in a dream-bright America—for are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-born caravelles, indolently encircled by the white birds of dreams?"
- " 'I can never get used [...] to the contrast between the opulence of nature and the squalor of human life.'"
- "...nature is motion and growth."
- "...we simply speak with our wounds; wounds procreate..."
- "Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive. Remembered ones dress up for the occasion and sit still. Memory is a photo-studio de luxe on an infinite Fifth Power Avenue."
- "What (Ada asks) are eyes anyway? Two holes in the mask of life. What (she asks) would they mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk bubble whose organ of sight was (say) an internal parasite resembling the written word 'deified'? What, indeed, would a pair of beautiful (human, lemurian, owlish) eyes mean to anybody if found lying on the seat of a taxi?"
- "All bright kids are depraved."
- "...if people remembered the same they would not be different people."
- "But we are not 'different'! Think and dream are the same in French."
- " 'All our old loves are corpses or wives.' All our sorrows are virgins or whores."
(See Algernon Charles Swinburne: "Time turns the old days to derision, / Our loves into corpses or wives; / And marriage and death and division / Make barren our lives.")
- "Tropes are the dreams of speech."
- "Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control."
- "Life, love, libraries, have no future."
- "Oh, come, art cannot hurt.
It can and how!"
The Texture of Time
- "Here a heckler asked, with the arrogant air of one wanting to see a gentleman’s driving license, how did the “Prof” reconcile his refusal to grant the future the status of Time with the fact that it, the future, could hardly be considered nonexistent, since “it possessed at least one future, I mean, feature, involving such an important idea as that of absolute necessity.” Throw him out. Who said **I** shall die?"
- "...Time is a fluid medium for the culture of metaphors."
- "Time is rhythm: the insect rhythm of a warm humid night, brain ripple, breathing, the drum in my temple—these are our faithful timekeepers; and reason corrects the feverish beat."
- "If my eye tells me something about Space, my ear tells me something about Time."
- " 'Space is a swarming in the eyes, and Time a singing in the ears...'"
- "Refuting the determinist’s statement more elegantly: unconsciousness, far from awaiting us, with flyback and noose, somewhere ahead, envelops both the Past and the Present from all conceivable sides, being a character not of Time itself but of organic decline natural to all things whether conscious of Time or not. That I know others die is irrelevant to the case."
- "An individual's life consisted of certain classified things: 'real things' which were unfrequent and priceless, simply 'things' which formed the routine stuff of life; and 'ghost things,' also called 'fogs,' such as fever, toothache, dreadful disappointments, and death. Three or more things occurring at the same time formed a 'tower,' or, if they came in immediate succession, they made a 'bridge.' 'Real towers' and 'real bridges' were the joys of life, and when the towers came in a series, one experienced supreme rapture; it almost never happened, though. In some circumstances, in a certain light, a neutral 'thing' might look or even actually become 'real' or else, conversely, it might coagulate into a fetid 'fog.' When the joy and the joyless happened to be intermixed, simultaneously or along the ramp of duration, one was confronted with 'ruined towers' and 'broken bridges.' "
- "During the week following her birthday, Ada's unfortunate fingernails used to stay garnet-stained and after a particularly ecstatic, lost-to-the-world session of scratching, blood literally streamed down her shins—a pity to see, mused her distressed admirer, but at the same time disgracefully fascinating—for we are visitors and investigators in a strange universe, indeed, indeed."
- "Now and then, when he detached his organs of locomotion from the lenient ground, and seemed actually to clap his hands in midair, in a miraculous parody of a jump, one wondered if this dreamy indolence of levitation was not a result of the earth’s canceling its pull in a fit of absentminded benevolence. Incidentally, one curious consequence of certain muscular changes and osteal "reclicks" caused by the special training was Van’s inability in later years to shrug his shoulders. Questions for study and discussion: 1. Did both palms leave the ground when Van, while reversed, seemed actually to skip on his hands? 2. Was Van’s adult incapacity to "shrug" things off only physical or did it "correspond" to some archetypal character of his "soul"? 3. Why did Ada burst into tears at the height of Van’s performance?"
- "Being unfamiliar with the itinerary of sun and shade in the clearing, he had left his bicycle to endure the blazing beams for at least three hours. Ada mounted it, uttered a yelp of pain, almost fell off, googled, recovered—and the rear tire burst with a comic bang."
- " 'Who cares,' cried Van, 'who cares about all those stale myths, what does it matter—Jove or Jehovah, spire or cupola, mosques in Moscow, or bronzes and bonzes, and clerics, and relics, and deserts with bleached camel ribs? They are merely the dust and mirages of the communal mud.'"
- " 'I am sentimental,' she said. 'I could dissect a koala but not its baby. I like the words damozel, eglantine, elegant. I love when you kiss my elongated white hand.'"
- " 'But this,' exclaimed Ada, 'is certain, this is reality, this is pure fact—this forest, this moss, your hand, the ladybird on my leg, this cannot be taken away, can it? (it will, it was). This has all come together here, no matter how the paths twisted, and fooled each other, and got fouled up: they inevitably met here!'"
- "...thrushes were singing so richly, with such sonorous force, such fluty fioriture, that one could not endure the agony of consciousness, the filth of life, the loss, the loss, the loss. Gradually, however, he regained a semblance of self-control by the magic method of not allowing the image of Ada to come anywhere near his awareness of himself. This created a vacuum into which rushed a multitude of trivial reflections. A pantomime of rational thought."
- "He could swear he did not look back, could not—by any optical chance, or in any prism—have seen her physically as he walked away; and yet, with dreadful distinction, he retained forever a composite picture of her standing where he left her. The picture...penetrated him, through an eye in the back of his head, through his vitreous spinal canal, and could never be lived down, never."
- "It did not matter, it did not matter. Destroy and forget! But a butterfly in the Park, an orchid in a shop window, would revive everything with a dazzling inward shock of despair."
- "Don’t laugh, my Ada, at our philosophic prose, all that matters just now is that I have given new life to Time by cutting off Siamese Space and the false future. My aim was to compose a kind of novella in the form of a treatise on the Texture of Time, an investigation of its veily substance, with illustrative metaphors gradually increasing, very gradually building up a logical love story, going from past to present, blossoming as a concrete story, and just as gradually reversing analogies and disintegrating again into bland abstraction."
- " 'I did not mean to offend anybody by my cry of anguish.'
'Even anguish should be civil,' continued Van (while the better Van in him tugged at his sleeve, aghast and ashamed).'"
- "Speaking as a botanist and a mad woman, she said, the most extraordinary word in the English language was 'husked,' because it stood for opposite things, covered and uncovered, tightly husked but easily husked, meaning they peel off quite easily, you don't have to tear the waistband, you brute. 'Carefully husked brute,' said Van tenderly."
- "In other more deeply moral worlds than this pellet of muck, there might exist restraints, principles, transcendental consolations, and even a certain pride in making happy someone one does not really love; but on this planet, Lucettes are doomed."
- "I'm a radiant void. I'm convalescing after a long and dreadful illness...I cannot brood over broken hearts, mine is too recently mended."
- "One is irresistibly tempted to compare the strange longings and nauseous qualms that enter into the complicated ecstasies accompanying the making of a young writer's first book with childbearing. Van had only reached the bridal stage; then, to develop the metaphor, would come the sleeping car of messy defloration; then the first balcony of honeymoon breakfasts, with the first wasp."
- "All he had wanted to say to Ada over the dumb dorophone amounted to three words in English, contractable to two in Russian, to one and a half in Italian..."
- " 'I would like to know how long this—how long this has been...' (going on, one presumes, or something equally banal, but then all ends are banal—hangings, the Nurember Old Maid's iron sting, shooting oneself, last words in the brand-new Ladore hospital, mistaking a drop of thirty thousand feet for the airplane's washroom, being poisoned by one's own wife, expecting a bit of Crimean hospitality...)