The part of [Oscar] Wilde was exceptionally important to me; the man, his achievements, his wisdom, but his downfall, his disgrace and the tragic and bitter end to it have always fascinated, appalled and attracted me since childhood. It was he who first in some measure vindicated my sexuality.
If we empower ourselves with responsibility over our actions, responsibility over our destinies and responsibility for directing and maintaining and creating our own ethical and moral frameworks, which is the most important thing really isn't it because perhaps the greatest insult to humanism is this idea that mankind needs a god in order to have a moral framework.
One of the most unattractive human traits, and so easy to fall into, is resentment at the sudden shared popularity of a previously private pleasure. Which of us hasn't been annoyed when a band, writer, artist or television series that had been a minority interest of ours has suddenly achieved mainstream popularity? When it was at a cult level we moaned at the philistinism of a world that didn't appreciate it, and now that they do appreciate it we're all resentful and dog-in-the-manger about it.
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The most natural way you would attempt to cope with something inside you that is affecting your moods and your energy levels is to intervene with chemicals to help and because medical science hasn't come up with pharmaceuticals that do particularly well you tend to reach for the chemicals that are outside the Pharma counter, i.e. narcotics and alcohol because they can guarantee your mood more or less.
[On libraries] What's great about them is that anybody can go into them and find a book and borrow it free of charge and read it. They don't have to steal it from a bookshop... You know when you're young, you're growing up, they're almost sexually exciting places because books are powerhouses of knowledge, and therefore they're kind of slightly dark and dangerous. You see books that kind of make you go 'Oh!
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Where LGBT and mental health issues collide is over stigma. And stigma is society's problem not the problem of the LGBT or mental health community. What we have to deal with is the ignorance, fear and prejudice that blight the lives of those who have nothing wrong with them in any moral or transgressive sense. It is society that is ill.
Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, 'All art is useless'. And that may sound as if that means it's something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.
Humanism is an approach to life which encourages ethical and fulfilling living on the basis of reason and humanity, and rejects superstition and religion. The most immediate impact of living as a Humanist is that we believe this life is all there is - so what we do and the choices we make really count.
Norwich is a fine city. None finer. If there is another city in the United Kingdom with a school of painters named after it, a matchless modern art gallery, a university with a reputation for literary excellence which can boast Booker Prize-winning alumni, one of the grandest Romanesque cathedrals in the world, and an extraordinary new state-of-the-art library then I have yet to hear of it.
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Great writers, I discovered, were not to be bowed down before and worshipped, but embraced and befriended. Their names resounded through history not because they had massive brows and thought deep incomprehensible thoughts, but because they opened windows in the mind, they put their arms round you and showed you things you always knew but never dared to believe. Even if their names were terrifyingly foreign and intellectual sounding, Dostoevsky, Baudelaire or Cavafy, they turned out to be charming and wonderful and quite unalarming after all.
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Cheat? Good heavens, this is an amateur cricket match amongst leading prep schools, I'm an Englishman and a schoolmaster supposedly setting an example to his young charges. We are playing the most artistic and beautiful game ever devised. Of course I'll cunting well cheat. Now, give me my robe and put on my crown. I have immortal longings in me.
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The worst of this sorry bunch of semi-educated losers are those who seem to glory in being irritated by nouns becoming verbs. How dense and deaf to language development do you have to be? If you don't like nouns becoming verbs, then for heaven's sake avoid Shakespeare who made a doing-word out of a thing-word every chance he got. He TABLED the motion and CHAIRED the meeting in which nouns were made verbs
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Picture this scene. A critic arrives at the gates of heaven. 'And what did you do?' asks Saint Peter. 'Well', says the dead soul. 'I criticised things'. 'I beg your pardon?' 'You know, other people wrote things, performed things, painted things and I said stuff like, "thin and unconvincing", "turgid and uninspired", "competent and serviceable,"...you know'.
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Stupid people like to delude themselves that while they may not be clever, they were at least able to compensate with feelings and insights denied to the intellectual....It was precisely this kind of false belief that made stupid people so stupid. The truth was the clever people had infinitely more resources from which to make the leaps of connection that the world called intuition. What was 'intelligence' after all, but the ability to read into things?
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I will defend the absolute value of Mozart over Miley Cyrus, of course I will, but we should be wary of false dichotomies. You do not have to choose between one or the other. You can have both. The human cultural jungle should be as varied and plural as the Amazonian rainforest. We are all richer for biodiversity. We may decide that a puma is worth more to us than a caterpillar, but surely we can agree that the habitat is all the better for being able to sustain each.
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If a thing can be said in ten words, I may be relied upon to take a hundred to say it. I ought to apologize for that. I ought to prune, pare and extirpate excess growth, but I will not. I like words""strike that, I love words""and while I am fond of the condensed and economical use of them in poetry, in song lyrics, in Twitter, in good journalism and smart advertising, I love the luxuriant profusion and mad scatter of them too.
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One of the traps of adolescence is the sort of paranoid resentment that somehow you're never going to match up and that everybody else's life is going to be better and finer and fuller. That everyone else attended some secret lesson in which how to live was taught and you had a dental appointment that day, or you were somehow not invited. And the point of great writers like Wilde is that they make that invitation to you.
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I think Eros should be dirty. In Greek legend, as I'm sure you are aware, he fell in love with the minor deity Psyche. It was the Greek way of saying that, in spite of what it may believe, Love pursues the Soul, not the body; the Erotic desires the Psychic. If Love was clean and wholesome he wouldn't lust after Psyche.
It is possible to be a fan of reality TV, talent shows and bubblegum pop and still have a brain. You will also see that a great many people know perfectly well how silly and camp and trivial their fandom is. They do not check in their minds when they enter a fan site. Judgement is not necessarily fled to brutish beasts, and men have not quite lost their reason. Which is all a way of questioning whether pop-culture hero worship is really so psychically damaging, so erosive of cognitive faculties, so corrupting of the soul of mankind as we are so often told.
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You think I have more than most people dream of? What other people dream of doesn't matter. I always had less than I ever dreamt of. All I ever dreamt of was family. A father and a mother. Most people don't even need to dream of such luxuries, they take them for granted. That is what I used to dwell on, alone in my bedroom. I dwelt as all children do, on the injustice. Injustice is the most terrible thing in the world, Oliver. Everything that is evil springs from it and only a cheap soul can abide it without anger.
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If you know someone who's depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they're going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It's hard to be a friend to someone who's depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.
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I have written it before and am not ashamed to write it again. Without Wodehouse I am not sure that I would be a tenth of what I am today - whatever that may be. In my teenage years, his writings awoke me to the possibilities of language. His rhythms, tropes, tricks and mannerisms are deep within me. But more than that, he taught me something about good nature. It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind.
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I used many times to touch my own chest and feel, under its asthmatic quiver, the engine of the heart and lungs and blood and feel amazed at what I sensed was the enormity of the power I possessed. Not magical power, but real power. The power simply to go on, the power to endure, that is power enough, but I felt I had also the power to create, to add, to delight, to amaze and to transform.
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Entirely in accordance with what education is supposed to be. Education is the sum of what students teach each other in between lectures and seminars. You sit in each other's rooms and drink coffee - I suppose it would be vodka and Red Bull now - you share enthusiasms, you talk a lot of wank about politics, religion, art and the cosmos and then you go to bed, alone or together according to taste. I mean, how else do you learn anything, how else do you take your mind for a walk?
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Jo Wood was sound, sound as a bell. Solid, cynical, amused and occasionally amusing, he did not appear to be very intelligent, and unlike Richard Fawcett and me, seemed uninterested in words, ideas and the world. But one day he said to me: 'I've got it now. It's reading isn't it?' 'I'm sorry?' 'You read a lot, don't you? That's where it all comes from. Reading. Yeah, reading.' The next time I saw him he had a Herman Hesse novel in his hands. I never saw him again without a book somewhere on his person. When I heard, some years later, that he had got into Cambridge I thought to myself, I know how that happened. He decided one day to read.
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Well I don't know about you, but when I recall childhood pain, I don't recall the pains of toothache, a thrashed backside, broken bones, stubbed toes, gashed knees or twisted ankles - I recall the pains of loneliness, boredom, abandonment, humiliation, rejection and fear. Those are the pains on which I might and, still sometimes do, dwell, and those pains, almost without exception, were inflicted on me by other children and by myself.
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Once, in his first term, Cartwright had been bold enough to ask him why he was clever, what exercises he did to keep his brain fit. Healey had laughed. "It's memory, Cartwright, old dear. Memory, the mother of the Muses... at least that's what thingummy said." "Who?" "You know, what's his name, Greek poet chap. Wrote the Theogony... what was he called? Begins with an 'H'." "Homer?" "No, dear. Not Homer, the other one. No, it's gone. Anyway. Memory, that's the key.
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If you spend your life on a moral hill-top, you see nothing but the mud below. If, like me, you live in the mud itself, you get a damned good view of clear blue sky and clean green hills above. There's none so evil-minded as those with a moral mission, and none so pure in heart as the depraved.
But just as we can all agree on what is red, even if we will never know if we each see it in the same way, so we can all agree - can't we? - that no matter how confident we may appear to others, inside we are all sobbing, scared and uncertain for much of the time. Or perhaps it's just me. Oh God, perhaps it really is just me. Actually it doesn't really matter, when you come to think of it. If it is just me, then you are reading the story of some weird freak. You are free to treat this book like science fiction, fantasy or exotic travel literature. Are there really men like Stephen Fry on this planet? Goodness, how alien some people are. And if I am not alone, then neither are you, and hand in hand we can marvel together at the strangeness of the human condition.
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Certainly the most destructive vice if you like, that a person can have. More than pride, which is supposedly the number one of the cardinal sins - is self pity. Self pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive. It is, to slightly paraphrase what Wilde said about hatred, and I think actually hatred's a subset of self pity and not the other way around - ' It destroys everything around it, except itself '. Self pity will destroy relationships, it'll destroy anything that's good, it will fulfill all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself. And it's so simple to imagine that one is hard done by, and that things are unfair, and that one is underappreciated, and that if only one had had a chance at this, only one had had a chance at that, things would have gone better, you would be happier if only this, that one is unlucky. All those things. And some of them may well even be true. But, to pity oneself as a result of them is to do oneself an enormous disservice. I think it's one of things we find unattractive about the american culture, a culture which I find mostly, extremely attractive, and I like americans and I love being in america. But, just occasionally there will be some example of the absolutely ravening self pity that they are capable of, and you see it in their talk shows. It's an appalling spectacle, and it's so self destructive. I almost once wanted to publish a self help book saying 'How To Be Happy by Stephen Fry : Guaranteed success'. And people buy this huge book and it's all blank pages, and the first page would just say - ' Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself - And you will be happy '. Use the rest of the book to write down your interesting thoughts and drawings, and that's what the book would be, and it would be true. And it sounds like 'Oh that's so simple', because it's not simple to stop feeling sorry for yourself, it's bloody hard. Because we do feel sorry for ourselves, it's what Genesis is all about.
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He had just reached the pavement and gave now the smallest, quickest of glances back up the hill, in our direction. Our eyes didn't meet, but I saw that he was even more beautiful than I had supposed. Even more beautiful than I had ever imagined it was possible to imagine imagining beauty. Beautiful in a way that made me realise that I had never even known before what beautiful really meant: not in people, nature, taste or sound.
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Music is everything and nothing. It is useless and no limit can be set on its use. Music takes me to places of illimitable sensual and insensate joy, accessing points of ecstasy that no angelic lover could ever locate, or plunging me into gibbering weeping hells of pain that no torturer could devise. Music makes me write this sort of maundering adolescent nonsense without embarrassment. Music is in fact the dog's bollocks. Nothing else comes close.
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It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing-they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.
The biggest challenge facing the great teachers and communicators of history is not to teach history itself, nor even the lessons of history, but why history matters. How to ignite the first spark of the will o'the wisp, the Jack o'lantern, the ignis fatuus [foolish fire] beloved of poets, which lights up one source of history and then another, zigzagging across the marsh, connecting and linking and writing bright words across the dark face of the present. There's no phrase I can come up that will encapsulate in a winning sound-bite why history matters. We know that history matters, we know that it is thrilling, absorbing, fascinating, delightful and infuriating, that it is life. Yet I can't help wondering if it's a bit like being a Wagnerite; you just have to get used to the fact that some people are never going to listen.
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Just let the words fly from your lips and your pen. Give them rhythm and depth and height and silliness. Give them filth and form and noble stupidity. Words are free and all words, light and frothy, firm and sculpted as they may be, bear the history of their passage from lip to lip over thousands of years. How they feel to us now tells us whole stories of our ancestors.
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Our language, tiger, our language: hundreds of thousands of available words, frillions of legitimate new ideas... And yet, oh, and yet, we, all of us, spend all our days saying to each other the same things time after weary time: "I love you, " "Don't go in there, " "Get out, " "You have no right to say that, " "Stop it, " "Why should I, " "That hurt, " "Help, " "Marjorie is dead.
It does not suit the world to hear that people who are leading a high life, an enviable life, a privileged life are as miserable most days as anybody else, despite the fact that it must be obvious they would be - given that we are all agreed that money and fame do not bring happiness. Instead the world would prefer to enjoy the idea, against what it knows to be true, that wealth and fame do in fact insulate and protect against misery and it would rather we shut up if we are planning to indicate otherwise.
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I was at a dinner party many years ago, sitting along from Tom Stoppard, who in those days smoked not just between courses, but between mouthfuls. An American woman watched in disbelief. "And you so intelligent!" "Excuse me?" said tom "Knowing those things are going to kill you" she said "and still you do it." "How differently I might behave" Tom said, "if immortality were an option
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They had been there. I had seen my mother's anxious face, desperate to catch my eye and give me a warm smile. I had tried to smile back, but I had not known how. That old curse again. How to smile. If I smiled too broadly it might look like triumphalism; if I smiled too weakly it might look like a feeble bid for sympathy. If I smiled somewhere in between it would, I knew, look, as always, like plain smugness. Somehow I managed to bare my teeth in a manner that expressed, I hope, sorrow, gratitude, determination, shame, remorse and resolve.
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Language is my whore, my mistress, my wife, my pen-friend, my check-out girl. Language is a complimentary moist lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-up wipette. Language is the breath of God, the dew on a fresh apple, it's the soft rain of dust that falls into a shaft of morning sun when you pull from an old bookshelf a forgotten volume of erotic diaries; language is the faint scent of urine on a pair of boxer shorts, it's a half-remembered childhood birthday party, a creak on the stair, a spluttering match held to a frosted pane, the warm wet, trusting touch of a leaking nappy, the hulk of a charred Panzer, the underside of a granite boulder, the first downy growth on the upper lip of a Mediterranean girl, cobwebs long since overrun by an old Wellington boot.
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