The reason this system can't be overthrown in this country," Walter said, "is all about freedom. The reason the free market in Europe is tempered by socialism is that they're not so hung up on personal liberties there. They also have lower population growth rates, despite comparable income levels. The Europans are all-around more rational, basically. And the conversation about rights in this country isn't rational. It's taking place on the level of emotion, and class resentments, which is why the right is so good at exploiting it.
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The more you pursue distractions, the less effective any particular distraction is, and so I'd had to up various dosages, until, before I knew it, I was checking my e-mail every ten minutes, and my plugs of tobacco were getting ever larger, and my two drinks a night had worsened to four, and I'd achieved such deep mastery of computer solitaire that my goal was no longer to win a game but to win two or more games in a row--a kind of meta-solitaire whose fascination consisted not in playing the cards but in surfing the streaks of wins and losses.
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If you look at the New Testament, it's a gospel of love. Yes, there's talk of judgement and there's talk of heaven and there's talk of people not getting into heaven, but it doesn't seem to me that the fundamental message of the gospels was one of guilt and retribution so much as love.
Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart's revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self's own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.
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And when the event, the big change in your life, is simply an insight-- isn't that a strange thing? That absolutely nothing changes except that you see things differently and you're less fearful and less anxious and generally stronger as a result: isn't it amazing that a completely invisible thing in your head can feel realer than anything you've experienced before?
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Walter had never liked cats. They'd seemed to him the sociopaths of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries, saluting the uniforms of killers as cat owners stroke their animals' lovely fur and forgive their claws and fangs. He'd never seen anything in a cat's face but simpering incuriosity and self-interest; you only had to tease one with a mouse-toy to see where it's true heart lay... cats were all about using people
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Reading Chip's college orientation materials, Alfred had been struck by the sentence New England winters can be very cold. The curtains he'd bought at Sears were of a plasticized brown-and-pink fabric with a backing of foam rubber. They were heavy and bulky and stiff. "You'll appreciate these on a cold night, " he told Chip. "You'll be surprised how much they cut down drafts." But Chip's freshman roommate was a prep-school product named Roan McCorkle who would soon be leaving thumbprints, in what appeared to be Vaseline, on the fifth-grade photo of Denise. Roan laughed at the curtains and Chip laughed, too. He put them back in the box and stowed the box in the basement of the dorm and let it gather mold there for the next four years. He had nothing against the curtains personally. They were simply curtains and they wanted no more than what any curtains wanted - to hang well, to exclude light to the best of their ability, to be neither too small nor too large for the window that it was their task in life to cover; to be pulled this way in the evening and that way in the morning; to stir in the breezes that came before rain on a summer night; to be much used and little noticed. There were numberless hospitals and retirement homes and budget motels, not just in the Midwest but in the East as well, where these particularly brown rubber-backed curtains could have had a long and useful life. It wasn't their fault that they didn't belong in a dorm room. They'd betrayed no urge to rise above their station; their material and patterning contained not a hint of unseemly social ambition. They were what they were. If anything, when he finally dug them out of the eve of graduation, their virginal pinkish folds turned out to be rather less plasticized and homely and Sears-like than he remembered. They were nowhere near as shameful as he'd thought.
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Tom's theory of why human beings had yet to receive any message from extraterrestrial intelligences was that all civilizations, without exception, blew themselves up almost as soon as they were able to get a message out, never lasting more than a few decades in a galaxy whose age was billions; blinking in and out of existence so fast that, even if the galaxy abounded with earthlike planets, the chances of one civilization sticking around to get a message from another were vanishingly low, because it was too damned easy to split the atom.
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My conception of a novel is that it ought to be a personal struggle, a direct and total engagement with the author's story of his or her own life. This conception, again, I take from Kafka, who, although he was never transformed into an insect, and although he never had a piece of food (an apple from his family's table!) lodged in his flesh and rotting there, devoted his whole life as a writer to describing his personal struggle with his family, with women, with moral law, with his Jewish heritage, with his Unconscious, with his sense of guilt, and with the modern world. Kafka's work, which grows out of the nighttime dreamworld in Kafka's brain, is more autobiographical than any realistic retelling of his daytime experiences at the office or with his family or with a prostitute could have been. What is fiction, after all, if not a kind of purposeful dreaming? The writer works to create a dream that is vivid and has meaning, so that the reader can then vividly dream it and experience meaning. And work like Kafka's, which seems to proceed directly from dream, is therefore an exceptionally pure form of autobiography. There's an important paradox here that I would like to stress: the greater the autobiographical content of a fiction writer's work, the smaller its superficial resemblance to the writer's actual life. The deeper the writer digs for meaning, the more the random particulars of the writer's life become impediments to deliberate dreaming.
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In order to justify their claim on our attention, the organs of mass culture and information are compelled to offer something "new" on a daily, indeed hourly, basis. Although good novelists don't deliberately seek out trends, many of them feel a responsibility to pay attention to contemporary issues, and they now confront a culture in which almost all of the issues are burned out almost all the time. The writer who wants to tell a story about society that's true not just in 1996 but in 1997 as well can find herself at a loss for solid cultural referents. What's topically relevant while she's planning the novel will almost certainly be passe by the time it's written, rewritten, published, distributed, and read.
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Since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don't have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It's all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.
The ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that's indifferent to our wishes - a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance - with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.
I think the iPod is the true face of Republican politics, and I'm in favor of the music industry ... standing up proud and saying it out loud: We in the Chiclet-manufacturing business are not about social justice, ... we're not about a coherent set of national ideals, we're not about wisdom. We're about choosing what WE want to listen to and ignoring everything else... We're about giving ourselves a mindless feel-good treat every five minutes... We're about persuading ten-year-old children to spend twenty-five dollars on a cool little silicone iPod case that costs a licensed Apple Computer subsidiary thirty-nine cents to manufacture.
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THE CORRECTION, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle letdown, a year-long leakage of value from key financial markets, a contraction too gradual to generate headlines and too predictable to seriously hurt anybody but fools and the working poor.
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A child who's got the habit will start reading under the covers with a flashlight, " she said. "If the parents are smart, they'll forbid the child to do this, and thereby encourage her. Otherwise she'll find a peer who also has the habit, and the two of them will keep it a secret between them.
How could I have thought that I needed to cure myself in order to fit into the 'real' world? I didn't need curing, and the world didn't, either; the only thing that did need curing was my understanding of my place in it. Without that understanding - without a sense of belonging to the real world - it was impossible to thrive in an imagined one.
If you were looking aside and mentally adding up the hours until the execution of a young killer, all that registered was something dark flashing by. But if you happened to be gazing directly at the window in question and you happened as well to be feeling unprecedentedly calm, four-tenths of a second was more than enough time to identify the falling object as your husband of forty-seven years.
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The Astors and the Vanderbilts, their pleasure domes and money: she was sick of it. Sick of envying, sick of herself. She didn't understand antiques or architecture, she couldn't draw like Sylvia, she didn't read like Ted, she had few interests and no expertise. A paucity for love was the only true thing she'd ever had.
Parents are programmed to want the best for their kids, regardless of what they get in return. That's what love is supposed to be like, right? But in fact, if you think about it, that's kind of a strange belief. Given what we know about the way people really are. Selfish and shortsighted and egotistical and needy. Why should being a parent, in and of itself, somehow confer superior-personhood on everybody who tries it? Obviously it doesn't.
El amor consiste en una empatea ilimitada, surgida de lo que el corazon nos revela, que el otro es tan real como nosotros. Y por eso el amor, segeºn lo entiendo, siempre es concreto. Intentar amar a toda la humanidad puede ser una empresa loable, pero curiosamente se centra en uno mismo, en el bienestar moral y espiritual de uno mismo. Mientras que para amar a una persona concreta, e identificarse con sus esfuerzos y alegreas como si fueran propios, uno tiene que renunciar a una parte de se.
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And if the world refused to square with his version of reality then it was necessarily an uncaring world, a sour and sickening world, a penal colony, and he was doomed to be violently lonely in it. He bowed his head at the thought of how much strength a man would need to survive an entire life so lonely.
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He was lovable the way a child is lovable, and he was capable of returning love with a childlike purity. If love is nevertheless excluded from his work, it's because he never quite felt that he deserved to receive it. He was a lifelong prisoner on the island of himself. What looked like gentle contours from a distance were in fact sheer cliffs. Sometimes only a little of him was crazy, sometimes nearly all of him, but, as an adult, he was never entirely not crazy. What he'd seen of his id while trying to escape his island prison by way of drugs and alcohol, only to find himself even more imprisoned by addiction, seems never to have ceased to be corrosive of his belief in his lovability. Even after he got clean, even decades after his late-adolescent suicide attempt, even after his slow and heroic construction of a life for himself, he felt undeserving. And this feeling was intertwined, ultimately to the point of indistinguishability, with the thought of suicide, which was the one sure way out of his imprisonment; surer than addiction, surer than fiction, and surer, finally, than love.
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There's the imperative to keep secrets, and the imperative to have them known. How do you know that you're a person, distinct from other people? By keeping certain things to yourself. You guard them inside you, because, if you don't, there's no distinction between inside and outside. Secrets are the way you know you even have an inside. A radical exhibitionist is a person who has forfeited his identity. But identity in a vacuum is also meaningless. Sooner or later, the inside of you needs a witness. Otherwise you're just a cow, a cat, a stone, a thing in the world, trapped in your thingness. To have an identity, you have to believe that other identities equally exist. You need closeness with other people. And how is closeness built? By sharing secrets... Your identity exists at the intersection of these lines of trust.
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By now it was too late to call St. Jude. He chose an out-of-the-way patch of airport carpeting and lay it down to sleep. He didn't understand what had happened to him. He felt like a piece of paper that had once had coherent writing on it but had been through the wash. He felt roughened, bleached and worn out along the fold lines. He semi-dreamed of disembodied eyes and isolated mouths in ski masks. He'd lost track of what he wanted, and since who a person was was what a person wanted, you could say that he'd lost track of himself.
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We who were not so pathologically far out on the spectrum of self-involvement, we dwellers of the visible spectrum who could imagine how it felt to go beyond violet but were not ourselves beyond it, could see that David was wrong not to believe in his lovability and could imagine the pain of not believing in it. How easy and natural love is if you are well! And how gruesomely difficult-what a philosophically daunting contraption of self-interest and self-delusion love appears to be-if you are not! And yet... the difference between well and not well is in more respects a difference of degree than of kind. Even though David laughed at my much milder addictions and liked to tell me that I couldn't even conceive of how moderate I was, I can still extrapolate from these addictions, and from the secretiveness and solipsism and radical isolation and raw animal craving that accompany them, to the extremity of his. I can imagine the sick mental pathways by which suicide comes to seem like the one consciousness-quenching substance that nobody can take away from you.
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If you choose to spend an hour every day tinkering with your Facebook profile, or if you don't see any difference between reading Jane Austen on a Kindle and reading her on a printed page, or if you think Grand Theft Auto IV is the greatest Gesamtkunstwerk since Wagner, I'm very happy for you, as long as you keep it to yourself.
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Det var det der holdt mig ve¥gen om natten, " sagde Walter. "Den her opsplitning af landet. For det er det samme problem overalt. Det er ligese¥dan med internettet eller kabel-tv - der er aldrig noget centrum, der er ingen fe¦lles enighed, der er bare en billion forskellige distraherende ste¸jkilder. Vi kan aldrig se¦tte os og fe¸re en vedvarende samtale, det er bare billigt skrammel og en lorteudvikling, det hele. Alt det e¦gte, alt det autentiske, alt det e¦rlige de¸r ud. Intellektuelt og kulturelt bliver vi kastet omkring som tilfe¦ldige billiardkugler og reagerer pe¥ den seneste tilfe¦ldige stimulans.
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Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression's actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.
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The reason they outperformed her was that they accepted each new 'product' without trying to understand it. They got behind the new pitch wholeheartedly, even when it was risible and/or made no sense, and then, if a prospective customer had trouble understanding the 'product, ' they didn't vocally agree that it sure was difficult to understand, didn't make a good-faith effort to explain the complicated reasoning behind it, but simply kept hammering on the written pitch. And clearly this was the path to success, and it was all a double disillusionment to Pip, who not only felt actively punished for using her brain but was presented every month with fresh evidence that Bay Area consumers on average responded better to a rote and semi-nonsensical pitch than to a well-meaning saleswoman trying to help them understand the offer.
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She wondered: How could people respond to these images if images didn't secretly enjoy the same status as real things? Not that images were so powerful, but that the world was so weak. It could be read, certainly, in its weakness, as on days when the sun baked fallen apples in orchards and the valley smelled like cider, and cold nights when Jordan had driven Chadds Ford for dinner and the tires of her Chevrolet had crunched on the gravel driveway; but the world was fungible only as images. Nothing got inside the head without becoming pictures.
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When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there's a very real danger that you might end up loving some of them. And who knows what might happen to you then?
Mr. Franzen said he and Mr. Wallace, over years of letters and conversations about the ethical role of the novelist, had come to the joint conclusion that the purpose of writing fiction was "a way out of loneliness." (NY Times article on the memorial service of David Foster Wallace.)
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Everything he'd done with regard to her in the last three years had been calculated to foreclose the intensely personal sort of talks they'd had when he was younger: to get her to shut up, to train her to contain herself, to make her stop pestering him with her overfull heart and her uncensored self. And now that the training was complete and she was obediently trivial with him, he felt bereft of her and wanted to undo it.
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I think we live in an era of problems that, if you step back and look at them globally, can't be solved. One response to that is, "Oh well, it's all hopeless. The natural world is getting wrecked, birds are disappearing, the planet is warming and so anything we might do on a smaller scale is meaningless."
The human species was given dominion over the earth and took the opportunity to exterminate other species and warm the atmosphere and generally ruin things in its own image, but it paid this price for its privileges: that the finite and specific animal body of this species contained a brain capable of conceiving the infinite and wishing to be infinite itself.
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Our visual cortexes are wired to quickly recognize faces and then quickly subtract massive amounts of detail from them, zeroing in on their essential message: Is this person happy? Angry? Fearful? Individual faces may vary greatly, but a smirk on one is a lot like a smirk on another. Smirks are conceptual, not pictorial. Our brains are like cartoonists - and cartoonists are like our brains, simplifying and exaggerating, subordinating facial detail to abstract comic concepts.
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I try to write things that can't be made into movies. My novels have thwarted many attempts to film them and I think that was true of the essay, too. If you'd actually tried to be true to the essay, it would have been, perhaps, boring. So taking that narrow little cast of characters and expanding it out, that was what was exciting about the project for me.
He and his wife loved each other and brought each other daily pain. Everything else he was doing in his life, even his longing for Lalitha, amounted to little more than flight from circumstance. He and Patty couldn't live together and couldn't imagine living apart. Each time he thought they'd reached the unbearable breaking point, it turned out that there was still further they could go without breaking.
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Walter had never liked cats. They'd seemed to him the sociopaths of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries, saluting the uniforms of killers as cat owners stroke their animals' lovely fur and forgive their claws and fangs. He'd never seen anything in a cat's face but simpering incuriosity and self-interest; you only had to tease one with a mouse-toy to see where it's true heart lay...cats were all about using people
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You encountered a misery near the end of the day and it took a while to gauge its full extent. Some miseries had sharp curvature and could be negotiated readily. Others had almost no curvature and you knew you'd be spending hours turning the corner. Great whopping-big planet-sized miseries.
Patty knew, in her heart, that he was wrong in his impression of her. And the mistake she went to go on to make, the really big life mistake, was to go along with Walter's version of her in spite of knowing that it wasn't right. He seemed so certain of her goodness that eventually he wore her down.
Depression, when it's clinical, is not a metaphor. It runs in families, and it's known to respond to medication and to counseling. However truly you believe there's a sickness to existence that can never be cured, if you're depressed you will sooner or later surrender and say: I just don't want to feel bad anymore. The shift from depressive realism to tragic realism, from being immobilized by darkness to being sustained by it, thus strangely seems to require believing in the possibility of a cure...
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Even in an intensely mediated world, in a world that offers at least the illusion of radical self-invention and radical freedom of choice, I as a novelist am drawn to the things you can't get away from. Because much of the promise of radical self-invention, of defining yourself through this marvelous freedom of choice, it's just a lie. It's a lie that we all buy into, because it helps the economy run.
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