Several impossible things

“In Wonderland, Alice’s White Queen tried to believe several impossible things before breakfast, an exercise we might all consider taking up, or at least consider giving credence to several unlikely things by lunchtime, given how unlikely everything is – from the generation of an oxygen atmosphere by anaerobic bacteria some several billion years ago to, oh, say, Boise Cascade swearing off wood from old-growth forests . . . ”
Rebecca Solnit, The White Queen’s Vision (Orion magazine)


For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin. . . .
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose utterance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

“The Thunder: Perfect Mind,” trans. by George MacRae (from The Nag Hammadi Library in English, James Robinson, ed., Harper, 1988)


“The [Gimi] women [of Papua New Guinea] claim that their cannibalism enables men to achieve eternal life. Older women remember that human flesh had a uniquely delectable sweetness, but they assert that their main desire was to prevent the ravages of decomposition. They say to the body: ‘Come to me so you shall not rot on the ground. Let your body dissolve inside me!’ The rotting flesh contains vital essence. Until disintegration is complete, the rotting flesh retains vestiges of the deceased ‘s awareness. Women say, ‘We would not have left a man to rot! We took pity on him and pushed him into the bamboo (cooking vessels) and ate him!’ The cannibalism is necessary for the rebirth of the man’s vital essence. For by eating his flesh, women prepare his bones (the symbol of a man’s essence) to return to the spirit world to fertilize nature.”
Peggy Reeves Sanday, Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System, Cambridge U.P., 1986


“Absolute self-contradiction is the very raison d’etre of the self.”
Nishida Kitaro, Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview (David A. Dilworth, trans., University of Hawaii Press, 1987)


“The news of the defeats of Napoleon dampened, as they could not but do, the Messianic movement among the hasidim. It goes without saying that what weighed so heavily upon their hearts was not the fact that he was defeated, but that the life of earth slipped back into its accustomed grooves. Nothing pointed to extraordinary consequences of the things that had come to pass. The man had been viewed as a phenomenon of superhuman or of unhuman stature; as the Gog of the land Magog, he had stamped his way over the supine and beaten nations. A thing so monstrous ought to have been the prelude to some decision of all decisions. And now there was nothing notable except that men breathed more easily. Everywhere men were happy that they had come home, as it were, from the horrors of history into the common course of things in which death occurred on the same wholly human plane as birth.”
Martin Buber, For the Sake of Heaven: A Chronicle, Meridian/JPS, 1953


“Suppose that humans happen to be so constructed that they desire the opportunity for freely undertaken productive work. Suppose that they want to be free from the meddling of technocrats and commissars, bankers and tycoons, mad bombers who engage in psychological tests of will with peasants defending their homes, behavioral scientists who can’t tell a pigeon from a poet, or anyone else who tries to wish freedom and dignity out of existence or beat them into oblivion.”
Noam Chomsky, “For Reasons of State,” Psychology and Ideology, 1973

UPDATE: The best way to compose brief chains of quotes, I’ve found, is not to expend too much thought on them, just plug in the first things that come to mind. One of the first things that came to mind yesterday was to use some lines from the poet Jack Gilbert, but I couldn’t find what I wanted – until now (Monday morning). From Monolithos (Graywolf, 1982), here’s


Imagine if suffering were real.
Imagine if those old people were afraid of death.
What if the midget or the girl with one arm
really felt pain? Imagine how impossible it would be
to live if some people were
alone and afraid all their lives.

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