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- 1 Quotes
- 1.1 Another Roadside Attraction (1971)
- 1.2 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)
- 1.3 Still Life with Woodpecker (1980)
- 1.4 Jitterbug Perfume (1984)
- 1.5 Skinny Legs and All (1990)
- 1.6 Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994)
- 1.7 Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2000)
- 1.8 High Times interview (2002)
- 1.9 Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005)
- 1.10 The Syntax of Sorcery (2012)
- 2 Quotes about Robbins
- 3 External links
Another Roadside Attraction (1971)
- When a man confines an animal in a cage, he assumes ownership of that animal. But an animal is an individual; it cannot be owned. When a man tries to own an individual, whether that individual be another man, an animal or even a tree, he suffers the psychic consequences of an unnatural act.
- There is no such thing as a weird human being. It's just that some people require more understanding than others.
- The only meat in the world sweeter, hotter, and pinker than Amanda's twat is Carolina barbecue.
- Whether a man is a criminal or a public servant is purely a matter of perspective.
- The function of the artist is to provide what life does not.
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)
- Sometimes those things that attract the most attention to us are the things that afford us the greatest privacy.
- Fire is the reuniting of matter with oxygen. If one bears that in mind, every blaze may be seen as a reunion, an occasion of chemical joy.
- So you think that you're a failure, do you? Well, you probably are. What's wrong with that? In the first place, if you've any sense at all you must have learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success.
- Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. That may be the only way any of us will ever be free.
- Of course I'm inconsistent! Only logicians and cretins are consistent!
- spoken by the character "The Chink".
- If we're ever going to get the world back on a natural footing, back in tune with natural rhythyms, if we're going to nurture the Earth and protect it and have fun with it and learn from it — which is what mothers do with their children — then we've got to put technology (an aggressive masculine system) in its proper place, which is that of a tool to be used sparingly, joyfully, gently and only in the fullest cooperation with nature. Nature must govern technology, not the other way around.
- Love is dope, not chicken soup.
- I set an example. That's all anyone can do. I'm sorry the cowgirls didn't pay better attention, but I couldn't force them to notice me. I've lived most of my entire adult life outside the law, and never have I compromised with authority. But neither have I gone out and picked fights with authority. That's stupid. They're waiting for that; they invite it; it helps keep them powerful. Authority is to be ridiculed, outwitted and avoided. And it's fairly easy to do all three. If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, acting lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which way, that's perfectly valid — but don't go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world, change yourself.
Still Life with Woodpecker (1980)
- There are only two mantras... yum and yuk. Mine is yum.
- Phase II, Ch. 21.
- I’m not quite twenty, but, thanks to you, I’ve learned something that many women these days never learn: Prince Charming really is a toad. And the Beautiful Princess has halitosis. The bottom line is that (a) people are never perfect, but love can be, (b) that is the one and only way that the mediocre and the vile can be transformed, and (c) doing that makes it that. Loving makes love. Loving makes itself. We waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love. Wouldn’t that be the way to make love stay?
- Leigh-Cheri to Bernard, in Phase III, Ch. 46.
- Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.
- Bernard to Leigh-Cheri, in Phase III, Ch. 46
- The following quotes should have chapter citations added to them
- How can one person be more real than any other? Well some people do hide and others seek. Maybe those who are hiding — escaping encounters, avoiding surprises, protecting their property, ignoring their fantasies, restricting their feelings, sitting out the Pan pipe hootchy-kootch of experience — maybe those people, people who won't talk to rednecks, or if they're rednecks won't talk to intellectuals, people who are afraid to get their shoes muddy or their noses wet, afraid to eat what they crave, afraid to drink Mexican water, afraid to bet a long shot to win, afraid to hitchhike, jaywalk, honky-tonk, cogitate, osculate, levitate, rock it, bop it, sock it, or bark at the moon, maybe such people are simply inauthentic, and maybe the jackleg humanist who says differently is due to have his tongue fried on the hot slabs of liars hell. Some folks hide and some folks seek,and seeking when its mindless, neurotic, desperate, or pusillanimous, can be a form of hiding. But there are folks who want to know and aren't afraid to look, and won't turn tail should they find it — and if they never do, they'll have a good time anyway, because nothing, neither the terrible truth, nor the absence of it, is going to cheat them out of one honest breath of earth's sweet gas.
- It's not men who limit women, it's not straights who limit gays, it's not whites who limit blacks. What limits people is lack of character. What limits people is that they don't have the fucking nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it.
- Tequila, scorpion honey, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Aztec, crema de cacti; tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution; tequila, liquid geometry of passion; Tequila, the buzzard God who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins; tequila, firebug in the house of good taste; O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate!”
- There are essential and inessential insanities. The latter are solar in character, the former are linked to the moon. Inessential insanities are a brittle amalgamation of ambition, aggression, and pre-adolescent anxiety — garbage that should have been dumped long ago. Essential insanities are those impulses one instinctively senses are virtuous and correct, even though peers may regard them as coo-coo. Inessential insanities get one in trouble with one's self. Essential insanities get one in trouble with others. In fact, it may be essential. Poetry, the best of it, is lunar and is concerned with the essential insanities. Journalism is solar... and is devoted to the inessential.
- Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not. Tom Robbins wrote that the only serious question is whether time has a beginning or an end. Camus clearly got up on the wrong side of the bed, and Robbins must have forgotten to set the alarm. There is only one serious question. And that question is: "Who knows how to make love stay?".
- When we're incomplete, we're always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we're still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This can go on and on — series polygamy — until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimension to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.
- On the campus of Outlaw College, professors of essential insanities would characterize the conflicting attitudes of Nina Jablonski and Leigh-Cheri as indicative of a general conflict between social idealism and romanticism. As any of the learned professors would explain, plied with sufficient tequila, no matter how fervently a romantic might support a movement, he or she eventually must withdraw from active participation in that movement because the group ethic — the supremacy of the organization over the individual — is an affront to intimacy. Intimacy is the principal source of the sugars with which this life is sweetened. It is absolutely vital to the essential insanities.
- If this typewriter can't do it, then fuck it, it can't be done.
- Society had a crime problem. It hired cops to attack crime. Now society has a cop problem.
- I sense that novel of my dreams is in the Remington SL3 — although it writes much faster than I can spell.
- This baby (the Remington SL3 typewriter) speaks electric Shakespeare at the slightest provocation and will rap out a page and a half if you just look at it hard.
- There is a similarity between juggling and composing on the typewriter. The trick is, when you spill something, make it look like a part of the act.
- Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.
- Her surname resembled a line from an optometrist's examination chart.
- Hawaii made the mouth of her soul water.
- They'd be no threat to me. I have a black belt in Haiku. And a black vest in the cleaners.
- There are essential and inessential insanities. The latter are solar in character, the former are linked to the moon.
- Sharks are the criminals of the sea. Dolphins are the outlaws.
- She lunched on papaya poo poo or mango mu mu or some other fruity foo foo bursting with overripe tropical vowels.
- There are two kinds of people in this world : those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.
- He looked at her with that kind of painted-on seriousness that comedians shift into when they get their chance to play Hamlet.
- The man and woman firmly shook hands. The solution to the overpopulation problem might rest in such handshakes.
- A better world has gotta start somewhere. Why not with you and me?
- If you're honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you're forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. This puts you metaphysically on the run. America is full of metaphysical outlaws.
- They snuggled closer, and when they were as close as they could get without being behind one another, they commenced to kiss again.
- This stuff's so fine Julius Caesar called for it with his dying breath. 'A toot, Brutus,' is what he said.
- Something has got to hold it together. I'm saying my prayers to Elmer, the Greek god of glue.
- "I'll follow him to the ends of the earth," she sobbed. Yes, darling. But the earth doesn't have any ends. Columbus fixed that.
- A rabbi's dog could score pork chops in the streets of Tel Aviv easier than Bernard could acquire tequila in King County Jail.
- She tried out the chamber pot, although she really had nothing to contribute.
- Any half-awake materialist well knows — that which you hold holds you.
- The first time that she spread her legs for him it had been like opening her jaws for the dentist.
- Funny how we think of romance as always involving two, when the romance of solitude can be ever so much more delicious and intense.
- I'll never write another novel on an electric typewriter. I'd rather use a sharp stick and a little pile of dogshit.
- It's never too late to have a happy childhood.
- Bernard Mickey Wrangle had developed a psychological test of his own. It was short, simple, and infallible. To administer the test, merely ask the subject to name his or her favorite Beatle. If you are at all familiar with the distinct separate public images of the four Beatles, then you'll recognize that the one chosen reveals as much about the subject's personality as most of us will ever hope to know.
- Three of the four elements are shared by all creatures, but fire was a gift to humans alone. Smoking cigarettes is as intimate as we can become with fire without immediate excruciation. Every smoker is an embodiment of Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and bringing it on back home. We smoke to capture the power of the sun, to pacify Hell, to identify with the primordial spark, to feed on the marrow of the volcano. It's not the tobacco we're after but the fire. When we smoke, we are performing a version of the fire dance, a ritual as ancient as lightning.
- "This is the way to burn," the fuse seemed to be saying to the more docile, slow-witted candlewick. "Brilliantly, ecstatically, irrepressibly. This is the way to burn."
- Who knows how to make love stay? Tell love you are going to the Junior's Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if love stays, it can have half. It will stay. Tell love you want a momento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a mustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.
- Twenty candles on a cake. Twenty Camels in a pack. Twenty months in the federal pen. Twenty shots of tequila down a young girl's gullet. Twenty centuries since Our Lord's last pratfall, and after all that time we still don't know where passion goes when it goes.
- They glared at her the way any intelligent persons ought to glare when what they need is a smoke, a bite, a cup of coffee, a piece of ass, or a good fast-paced story, and all they're getting is philosophy.
Jitterbug Perfume (1984)
- It is so amusing the way that mortals misunderstand the shape, or shapes, of time. … In the realms of the ultimate, each person must figure out things for themselves. … Teachers who offer you the ultimate answers do not possess the ultimate answers, for if they did, they would know that the ultimate answers cannot be given, they can only be received.
- Above the building, the sky recalled passages from Les Miserables, threadbare and gray.
- Birth and death were easy. It was life that was hard.
- Modern Romans insisted that there was only one god, a notion that struck Alobar as comically simplistic.
- If you didn't serve the nasty fellow (God), the Romans would burn your house down. If you did serve him, you were called a Christian and got to burn other people's houses down.
- The shaman lives outside the social system, refusing to have any part of it. Yet he seems to connect the populace to the heavens and the earth far more directly than the priest.
- In the quiet ache of the evening, Alobar listened to his calluses grow.
- I journey to the east, where I have been told, there are men who have taught death some manners.
- You don't have to be a genius to recognize one. If you did, Einstein would never have gotten invited to the White House.
- Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air — moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh — felt as if it were being exhaled into one's face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing.
- If you fail to pilot your own ship, don't be surprised at what inappropiate port you find yourself docked.
- Let me see if I can put it in words that even the inebriated might understand.
- She needed help, but God was in a meeting whenever she rang.
- ... overdramatizing the word of God, turning the Scriptures into a cross between a German opera and a hockey game.
- The Middle Ages hangs over history's belt like a beer belly. It is too late now for aerobic dancing or cottage cheese lunches to reduce the Middle Ages. History will have to wear size 48 shorts forever.
- ...the natural process of aging, which according to Dr. Wiggs Dannyboy, is so unnaturally cruel that only man could have ordained it — neither nature nor God would stoop so low.
- My lunar sign is in Virgo. Every month when the moon is full, I'm driven to balance my checkbook and straighten up my apartment. I can't help myself. Instead of a werewolf I turn into an accountant.
- Well, there's one thing to be said for money. It can make you rich.
- There's probably no subject with quite so many conflictin' opinions about it as there are about food, and 'tis better to swap bubble gum with a rabid bulldog than challenge a single one o' the varyin' beliefs your average human holds about nutrition.
- I deserve to be chained by night in a church basement without company o' cassette player if I'm not man enough to ask you for the teeniest, slightest brush of oral-muscular affaction.
- Water! Of all liquids on Earth, the only one chosen for scrubbin' and flushin'. The liquid they rinse baby's nappies in, the fluid that floods the gutters o' this cloud-squeezer town; a single drop o' water discolors a glass of Irish, and you, false friend, are wantin' me to pour this abrasive substance into me defenseless body!
- Zippers are primal and modern at the very same time. On the one hand, your zipper is primitive and reptilian, on the other, mechanical and slick. A zipper is where the Industrial Revolution meets the Cobra Cult.
- A sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion so far devised.
- A lot of progress was being made there at MIT. Those guys had molecules jumping through hoops like poodles in a circus.
- Most snoring is composed by Beethoven or Wagner, although a few times Wiggs had heard heavy metal rock performed on the somnambulate bassoon.
- They were old enough to know better. Some of them were old enough to remember when old Macdonald had a farm.
- To achieve the impossible, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.
- It couldn't have been Pan's output alone because Alobar's testicles were as flat and juiceless as trampled grapes.
- The unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwelling on himself and start paying attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence. When you're unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. You get to take yourself oh so very seriously.
Skinny Legs and All (1990)
- ...to emphasize the afterlife is to deny life. To concentrate on heaven is to create hell.
- Religion is not merely the opium of the masses, it's the cyanide.
- The winter passed as slowly and peacefully as a boa constrictor digesting a valium addict.
- In the haunted house of life, art is the only stair that doesn't creak.
- Of the seven deadly sins, lust is definitely the pick of the litter.
- ...she recreated the mountains not as she had originally seen them but as she eventually chose to perceive them, not only a capacity to observe the world but a capacity to alter his or her observation of it — which, in the end, is the capacity to alter the world, itself. Those people who recognise that imagination is reality's master, we call "sages," and those who act upon it, we call "artists."
- A person can't make a career out of somebody else's invective.
- "Not naive," Conch Shell had corrected him, "He simply has not been taught to fear the things you fear."
- "Leave me in the night but please don't leave me in the dark"
- "keep your eye on the ball, even if you cannot see the ball."
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994)
- Are you aware that rushing toward a goal is a sublimated death wish? It's no coincidence we call them 'deadlines'.
- It's a smile a girl could bring home to mother, if she had a mother; a smile a girl could pet like a pony, sip like a lemonade, hum like a popular tune; a smile a girl would feel safe with in a dark alley.
- Midnight, when the monotonous tick-tock of diurnal progress is for one throbbing moment replaced by the cool but smokey honk of a saxophone, alternately seductive and threatening. Midnight. The black growth on the clock face that has to be biopsied every twenty-four hours to see whether it is malignant or benign.
- Night, when tangos play on the nurse's radio and rat poison sings its own hot song behind the cellar door. Night, when the long snake feeds, when the black sedan cruises the pleasure districts, when neon flickers "Free at Last" in a dozen lost languages, and shapes left over from childhood move furtively behind the moon-dizzy boughs of the fir.
- There's no such thing as security in this life, sweetheart; and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you'll be. The person who strives for security will never be free. The person who believes that she's found security will never reach paradise. What she mistakes for security is purgatory. You know what purgatory is, Gwendolyn? It's the waiting room, it's the lobby. Not only does she have the wrong libretto, she's stuck in the lobby where she can't see the show.
- ...that she was the one who'd made friends with the Snake, that she'd let it lick the blood of her first menstruation, that she … ooo eee, that she … ooo eee, that she … ooo, eee, that she now knew what the Serpent knew.
- There are landscapes in which we feel above us not sky but space. Something larger, deeper than sky is sensed, is seen, although in such settings the sky is invariably immense. There is a place between the cerebrum and the stars where sky stops and space commenses, and should we find ourselves on a particular prairie or mountaintop at a particular hour [...] our relationship with sky thins and loosens while our connection with space becomes as solid as bone.
- In this room, the salamander was squashed between the pages of the rhyming dictionary, thereby changing poetry forever. Here, Salome walked around with a big red fish held high up over her head. Old Father spanked her with a ballet slipper, sending her to bed without milk or honey. Dance was changed in this room, too.
- So this, then, is the chamber of the hootchy-kootch. Its bathtub full of orchids. Its closet full of smoke.
- Your friend insults the homeless by giving them no credit for having made the decisions that shaped their lives, and demeans them further by declaring them powerless to alter their situations. There’re many ways, my dear, to victimize people. The most insidious way is to persuade them that they’re victims.
- All Uncle Larry is saying is that individuals have to accept responsibility for their own bad choices. If every time we choose a turd, society, at great expense, simply allows us to redeem it for a pepperoni, then not only will we never learn to make smart choices, we will also surrender the freedom to choose, because a choice without consequences is no choice at all. Maybe it boils down to the premium we want to place on liberty.
- I’m acquainted with a, uh, gentleman who claims that the extent to which a society focuses on the needs of its lowest common denominator is the extent to which that society’ll be mired in mediocrity. Whereas, if we would aim the bulk of our support at the brightest, most talented, most virtuous instead, then they would have the wherewithal to solve a lot of our problems, to uplift the whole culture, enlighten it or something, so that eventually there wouldn’t be so many losers and weaklings impeding evolution and dragging the whole species down. He claims that martyrs like you just perpetuate human misery by catering to it. He believes individuals have to take responsibility for their own lives and accept the consequences of their choices.
- You can love ‘em till your well runs dry, Belford, but you can never love ‘em enough, and you know it. No matter how much others might love you, you can’t love yourself unless you’re in charge of your own actions, and you’ll never take charge as long as you can get away with blaming your shortcomings and misfortunes on your family or society or your race or gender or Satan or whatever…
- People of zee wurl, Relax!
- Nostalgia's nice enough in little bitty doses, it puts personal peach fuzz on the hard ass of history.
- There's birth, there's death, and in between there's maintenance.
- On the poor use of grammar It's a matter of usage. If a house is off-plumb and rickety and lets in the wind, you blame the mason, not the bricks. Our words are up to the job. It's our syntax that's limiting.
- "In the end, we should simply imagine a joke; a long joke that's being continually retold in an accent too thick and too strange to ever be completely understood. Life is that joke. The soul is its punchline."
- "What is it that separates human beings from the so called lower animals? Well as I see it, it's exactly one half dozen significant things: Humor, Imagination, Eroticism — as opposed to the mindless, instinctive mating of glow-worms or raccoons — Spirituality, Rebelliousness, and Aesthetics, an appreciation of beauty for its own sake. Now, since those are the features that define a human being, it follows that the extent to which someone is lacking in those qualities is the extent to which he or she is less than human. Capisce?"
- "And what would our ideas of God, of religion, be like if they had come to us through the minds of women? Ever think of that?"
- "The more advertising I see, the less I want to buy."
- Moreover, given the unpleasant option of having to associate with either the self-satisfied beautiful or the self-pitying plain, he'd choose the former every time because beauty could sometimes transcend smugness whereas self-pity just made ugliness all the more unattractive.
- Suppose the neutral angels were able to talk to Yahweh and Lucifer — God and Satan, to use their popular titles — into settling out of court. What would be the terms of the compromise? Specifically, how would they divide the assets of their earthly kingdom? Would God be satisfied to take loaves and fishes and itty-bitty thimbles of Communion wine, while allowing Satan to have the redeye Gravy, eighteen ounce New York steak, and buckets of chilled champagne? Would God really accept twice-a-month lovemaking for procreative purposes and give Satan the all-night, no-holds-barred, nasty "can't-get-enough-of-you" hot-as-hell fucks?
- "The Devil doesn't make us do anything. The Devil, for example, doesn't make us mean. Rather, when we're mean, we make the Devil. Literally. Our actions create him. Conversely, when we behave with compassion, generosity, and grace, we create God in the world."
- "For most people, self-awareness and self-pity blossom simultaneously in early adolescence. It's about that time that we start viewing the world as something other than a whoop-de-doo playground, we start to experience personally how threatening it can be, how cruel and unjust. At the very moment when we become, for the first time, both introspective and socially conscientious, we receive the bad news that the world, by and large, doesn't give a rat's ass."
- "Accept that you're a pimple and try to keep a lively sense of humor about it. That way lies grace — and maybe even glory."
- "Things. Cosas. Things attach themselves like leeches to the human soul, then they bleed out the sweetness and the music and the primordial joy of being unencumbered upon the land."
- "I'm looking for the novelists whose writing is an extension of their intellect rather than an extension of their neurosis."
- I've always assumed that every time a child is born, the Divine reenters the world. Okay? That's the meaning of the Christmas story. And every time that child's purity is corrupted by society, that's the meaning of the Crucifixion story. Your man Jesus stands for that child, that pure spirit, and as its surrogate, he's being born and put to death again and again, over and over, every time we inhale and exhale, not just at the vernal equinox and on the twenty-fifth of December.
- "Good luck to you, pal. That's a search these days."
High Times interview (2002)
- I'm descended from a long line of preachers and policemen. Now, it's common knowledge that cops are congenital liars, and evangelists spend their lives telling fantastic tales in such a way as to convince otherwise rational people that they're factual. So, I guess I come by my narrative inclinations naturally. Moreover, I grew up in the rural South, where, although television has been steadily destroying it, there has always existed a love of colorful verbiage.
- Usually, my witticisms are composed on the spot. They're simply intrinsic; an inseparable, integral, organic part of my writing process — doubtlessly because humor is an inseparable, integral part of my philosophical worldview. The comic sensibility is vastly, almost tragically, underrated by Western intellectuals. Humor can be a doorway into the deepest reality, and wit and playfulness are a desperately serious transcendence of evil. My comic sense, although deliberately Americanized, is, in its intent, much closer related to the crazy wisdom of Zen monks and the goofy genius of Taoist masters than it is to, say, the satirical gibes on Saturday Night Live. It has both a literary and a metaphysical function.
- The key to self-generated happiness (the only reliable kind) is the refusal to take oneself too seriously.
- "The Green Man : Tom Robbins" interviewed by Gregory Daurer, in High Times (12 June 2002).
Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005)
- It is their desire to honor L. Cohen, songwriter, that has prompted a delegation of our brightest artists to climb, one by one, joss sticks smoldering, the steep and salty staircase in the Tower of Song.
There is evidence that the honoree might be privy to the secret of the universe, which, in case you’re wondering, is simply this: everything is connected. Everything. Many, if not most, of the links are difficult to determine. The instrument, the apparatus, the focused ray that can uncover and illuminate those connections is language. And just as a sudden infatuation often will light up a person’s biochemical sky more pyrotechnically than any deep, abiding attachment, so an unlikely, unexpected burst of linguistic imagination will usually reveal greater truths than the most exacting scholarship. In fact, the poetic image may be the only device remotely capable of dissecting romantic desire, let alone disclosing the hidden mystical essence of the material world.
Cohen is a master of the quasi-surrealistic phrase, of the “illogical” line that speaks so directly to the unconscious that surface ambiguity is transformed into ultimate, if fleeting, comprehension: comprehension of the bewitching nuances of sex and the bewildering assaults of culture.
- Nobody can say the word “naked” as nakedly as Cohen. He makes us see the markings where the pantyhose have been.
- To pragmatists, the letter Z is nothing more than a phonetically symbolic glyph, a minor sign easily learned, readily assimilated, and occasionally deployed in the course of a literate life. To cynics, Z is just an S with a stick up its butt.
- All animals copulate but only humans osculate. Parakeets rub beaks? Sure they do, but only little old ladies who murder schoolchildren with knitting needles to steal their lunch money so that they can buy fresh kidneys to feed overweight kitty cats would place bird billing in the realm of the true kiss.
The Syntax of Sorcery (2012)
- Christians, and some Jews, claim we're in the "end times," but they've been saying this off and on for more than two thousand years. According to Hindu cosmology, we're in the Kali Yuga, a dark period when the cow of history is balanced precariously on one leg, soon to topple. Then there are our new-age friends who believe that this December we're in for a global cage-rattling which, once the dust has settled, will usher in a great spiritual awakening.
Most of this apocalyptic noise appears to be just wishful thinking on the part of people who find life too messy and uncertain for comfort, let alone for serenity and mirth. The truth, from my perspective, is that the world, indeed, is ending – and is also being reborn. It's been doing that all day, every day, forever. Each time we exhale, the world ends; when we inhale, there can be, if we allow it, rebirth and spiritual renewal. It all transpires inside of us. In our consciousness, in our hearts. All the time.
Otherwise, ours is an old, old story with an interesting new wrinkle. Throughout most of our history, nothing – not flood, famine, plague, or new weapons – has endangered humanity one-tenth as much as the narcissistic ego, with its self-aggrandizing presumptions and its hell-hound spawn of fear and greed. The new wrinkle is that escalating advances in technology are nourishing the narcissistic ego the way chicken manure nourishes a rose bush, while exploding worldwide population is allowing its effects to multiply geometrically. Here's an idea: let's get over ourselves, buy a cherry pie, and go fall in love with life.
- Certain individual words do possess more pitch, more radiance, more shazam! than others, but it's the way words are juxtaposed with other words in a phrase or sentence that can create magic. Perhaps literally. The word "grammar," like its sister word "glamour," is actually derived from an old Scottish word that meant "sorcery." When we were made to diagram sentences in high school, we were unwittingly being instructed in syntax sorcery, in wizardry. We were all enrolled at Hogwarts. Who knew?
When a culture is being dumbed down as effectively as ours is, its narrative arts (literature, film, theatre) seem to vacillate between the brutal and the bland, sometimes in the same work. The pervasive brutality in current fiction – the death, disease, dysfunction, depression, dismemberment, drug addiction, dementia, and dreary little dramas of domestic discord – is an obvious example of how language in exploitative, cynical or simply neurotic hands can add to the weariness, the darkness in the world. Less apparent is that bland writing — timid, antiseptic, vanilla writing – is nearly as unhealthy as the brutal and dark. Instead of sipping, say, elixir, nectar, tequila, or champagne, the reader is invited to slurp lumpy milk or choke on the author's dust bunnies.
- I'll say this much: virtually every advancement made by our species since civilization first peeked out of its nest of stone has been initiated by lone individuals, mavericks who more often than not were ignored, mocked, or viciously persecuted by society and its institutions. Society in general maintains such a vested interest in its cozy habits and solidified belief systems that it had rather die – or kill – than entertain change. Consider how threatened religious fundamentalists of all faiths remain to this day by science in general and Darwin in particular.
Cultural institutions by and large share one primary objective: herd control. Even when ostensibly benign, their propensity for manipulation, compartmentalization, standardization and suppression of potentially disruptive behavior or ideas, has served to freeze the evolution of consciousness practically in its tracks. In technological development, in production of material goods and creature comforts, we've challenged the very gods, but psychologically, emotionally, we're scarcely more than chimpanzees with bulldozers, baboons with big bombs.
- Genius may stand on the shoulders of giants, but it stands alone.
- We humans have always defined ourselves by narration. What's happening today is that we're allowing multi-national corporations to tell our stories for us. The theme of corporate stories (and millions drink them in every day) seldom varies: to be happy you must consume, to be special you must conform. Absurd, obviously, yet our identities have become so fragile, so elusive, that we seem content to let advertisers provide us with their version of who we are, to let them recreate us in their image: a cookie-cutter image based on market research, shallow sociology, and insidious lies. Individualism is bad for business – though absolutely necessary for freedom, progressive knowledge, and any possible interface with the transcendent. And yes, it's entirely possible to function as a free-thinking individual without succumbing to narcissism..
- What we, thanks to Jung, call "synchronicity" (coincidence on steroids), Buddhists have long known as "the interpenetration of realities." Whether it's a natural law of sorts or simply evidence of mathematical inevitability (an infinite number of monkeys locked up with an infinite number of typewriters eventually producing Hamlet, not to mention Tarzan of the Apes), it seems to be as real as it is eerie.
- Although I participated enthusiastically in the sixties psychedelic revolution, and tried to mimic it – its trappings, its mythology, its silliness, its profundity – in print in my first novel, I had nothing to do with its creation. Rather, it was the confluence of two disparate elements – acute socio-political dissatisfaction and pharmacological neo-shamanism – that precipitated it; and it was democracy, as much as ferocious opposition from both the right-wing and left-wing establishments, that caused it to eventually unravel.
Democracy? Yep, oddly enough. The counterculture light was so bright it began to attract moths (people who sadly were not intellectually or spiritually prepared to meaningfully assimilate transformative multi-dimensional data streams from hyperspace) and stinging stink bugs (the thugs that invariably invade every utopia) in such great numbers that they eventually crowded out the butterflies (the educated middle class truth-seekers who switched on the light in the first place). That's an oversimplification, of course, but it's good to bear in mind that like it or not, enlightenment has always been, even in a golden age, pretty much limited to an elite. In America, the relatively finite psychedelic culture was shoved aside by the burgeoning boogie culture, whose drugs of choice were booze, speed, and cocaine; and whose goal was not to attain spiritual bliss, deeper understanding, or an end to war and repression but rather to get thoroughly fucked up.
- Except in the areas of civil rights and medical marijuana, the legacy of the sixties counterculture has been largely superficial. Still, though the light has dimmed and gone underground, something in me would like to think the sixties phenomenon was a dress rehearsal for a grander, wider leap in consciousness yet to come. However, since Seafood Kabob is likely to win the Belmont Stakes before a psychic jailbreak of that magnitude materializes, my strategy is to try to live as if that day were already here.
- Watts published a luminous book entitled The Wisdom of Insecurity that ought to be required reading for every high school senior. Watts elaborates beautifully on what I've learned from observation and personal experience: namely, that security is an illusion.
- Just because something didn't happen doesn't mean it isn't true.
Quotes about Robbins
- When he starts a novel, it works like this. First he writes a sentence. Then he rewrites it again and again, examining each word, making sure of its perfection, finely honing each phrase until it reverberates with the subtle texture of the infinite. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes an entire day is devoted to one sentence, which gets marked on and expanded upon in every possible direction until he is satisfied. Then, and only then, does he add a period.
- Michael Dare, in "How to Write Like Tom Robbins" in The Spirit Of Writing : Classic and Contemporary Essays Celebrating the Writing Life (2001) edited by Mark Robert Waldman, p. 41.
- Forty-odd years ago, there was a countercultural moment, a brief, shining moment, as it were, when the eyes of a generation glimpsed the Eden beneath the veil. However fleeting was this paradise, or however harsh has been its repression, its light nonetheless inspired a rowdy cohort of artists to carry its torch into the future. Tom Robbins is one of these unruly pioneers, and his frequently bestselling novels are so saturated in an uncontainable joie de vivre that they have remained virtually required reading throughout the years and decades since their initial publication.
- Dharma Yum - Weblog of the AFTRLife
- Tom Robbins at Random House Australia
- The Syntax of Sorcery: An Interview with Tom Robbins (2012)
- Oral history interview with Tom Robbins, 1984 Mar. 3, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (1984)
- From Blowing Rock to Windy Cliff: A Tentative Chronology
- A biographical essay (2003)
- Basking Robbins Interview (1985)
- Salon.com mini-bio (2000)
- Seattle Weekly interview (2000)
- Tom Robbins's advice to writers
- The Complete(?) Tom Robbins Bibliography maintained by AFTRLife, current up to 1996