5 quotes: The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce exudes sarcasm, humour, misanthropy, irony and also a sharp point of view, even if it’s disguised by it’s funny and acid style. The extended version was published in 1911 being to this day a book that explains more about humanity than the words it compiles.

1

CHRISTIAN, n.

One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

2

ELECTOR, n.

One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice.

3

PHILISTINE, n.

One whose mind is the creature of its environment, following the fashion in thought, feeling and sentiment. He is sometimes learned, frequently prosperous, commonly clean and always solemn.

4

HOMŒOPATHIST, n.

The humorist of the medical profession.

5

OCCIDENT, n.

The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful subtribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call “war” and “commerce.” These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient.

Albert Camus reinterprets the Sisyphus myth to find the tragic heroism in all of us

“If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?” - Albert Camus

Albert Camus

The alarmingly high number of people suffering from depression and anxiety can be a sign of how much our life may seem meaningless or, according the philosopher Alber Camus, absurd. If life looks like that, it’s important to read what he has to say, thoughts coming straight from the Cold War days.

 A personality hard to categorize due to his ideas and personal life, Albert Camus maintain his importance to the present days. In his essay “The myth of Sisyphus” published in 1941, he delves into the classic to shed light upon the absurd and chaotic world surrounding him.


 “The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”
 

Sisyphys (1548–49) by Titian, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain

With Sisyphus being his “absurd hero” due to his love for life, a tragedy shared by all of us, he says:


“At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”

Camus not only defines his concept of heroism, but also the kind of happiness possible in an absurd world: the consciousness and the rebellion against the lack of hope. An argument he develops by creating a parallel with the story of Oedipus:

“Thus, Oedipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same time, blind and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Sophocles' Oedipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism."

If even Sisyphus can be happy and this would be greatest rebellion against the divine punishment. However, Camus do not talk about possibility. To him, it is necessary to imagine Sisyphus being happy:

“Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

 Camus received the Nobel Prize in 1957 and became part of the great group of writers like José Saramago and William Faulkner that not only marked their time but also keep their relevance. Read also the idea Saramago proposed in his Nobel speech and the interview given by Faulkner at the University of Virginia.

How Bioy Casares redeemed himself 25 years after writing a harsh preface

“If a writer live long enough he will discover in his works plenty of mistakes and not to be conformed with this fate is a sign of intellectual presumption.” – Adolfo Bioy Casares

Silvina Ocampo and Bioy Casares

Any reader who have found the works of Adolfo Bioy Casares, Jorge Luís Borges or Silvina Ocampo knows the power contained in the writings of these icons of south American literature. And they themselves read and considered important? According to Bioy, in one of their reunions they decided to gather the best fantastic tales they knew and edit them in a single volume. That’s how in 1940 the “Anthology of Fantastic Literature” was born, a book made famous both by it’s anthologists and the stories it contains.

However, in 1965 a post-scriptum was added to the book in order to fix certain affirmations made in the first preface from 1940, both written by Bioy Casares:

“To console myself, I once argued, if a writer live long enough he will discover in his works plenty of mistakes and not to be conformed with this fate is a sign of intellectual presumption. However, I’ll try not to waste the possibility of rectification.”
 Borges (left) and Bioy Casares (right).

Borges (left) and Bioy Casares (right).

In the first preface he criticized of Kipling’s stories and Marcel Proust’s writing. Joking about a curse in the text and trying to remember the mindset under which he wrote these words he not only denies his attacks but also pays homage to the authors.

“Such critic and not a word about merits configure an opinion that’s not mine. Probably the paragraph in question was cursed. In it I not only attack a favorite story but also find a way, despite the natural rhythm of the language, that do not tolerate such long parentheses, of adding a reference to Proust, as arbitrary as depreciating. I accept when many things remain unsaid, but not saying what I don’t think. Occasional irreverence can be healthy, but to aim it at those we admire the most?  (Now I think I remember that there were a moment in youth when the incomprehensible sacrifice filled me with pride.)”

He also explains his attack were a reflex of an understanding, at that time, that the romance had forgotten the essential to him: to tell stories. However, he himself accepts that the psychological romance wasn’t at risks because of the critics and the same would happen to the fantastic literature:

“The fantastic short stories is also safe against those whose disdain demand a more serious literature, capable of bringing answers to the perplexities of the – do not detain yourself here my nib, write the glorious words – modern man. Hardly the answer will mean a solution, out of the reach of the novelists and writers; probably it will insist in commenting, considering, divagating, maybe comparable to the act of ruminating, about some contemporary theme: politics and economics today and yesterday or tomorrow, the corresponding obsession. The fantastic short story corresponds to an aspiration of a man less obsessed, more permanent along the course of life and history: the unending desire of hearing tales; this satisfies him more than anything, because it’s the story of the stories, those of ancient and oriental collections and, as said by Palmeirin of England, imagination’s golden pommel.”

The preface and the post-scriptum this Anthology are, by themselves, a lesson about critic and respect, a way of redemption lacking for many of us. The texts compiled there are rich and deserving of a full reading. Read also the interview where Borges talks about his love for literature and what it takes to be a great writer.

On libraries by Oliver Sacks

 

When I was a child, my favorite room at home was the library, a large oak-paneled room with all four walls covered by bookcases—and a solid table for writing and studying in the middle. It was here that my father had his special library, as a Hebrew scholar; here too were all of Ibsen’s plays—my parents had originally met in a medical students’ Ibsen society; here, on a single shelf, were the young poets of my father’s generation, many killed in the Great War; and here, on the lower shelves so I could easily reach them, were the adventure and history books belonging to my three older brothers. It was here that I found The Jungle Book; I identified deeply with Mowgli, and used his adventures as a taking-off point for my own fantasies.

My mother had her favorite books in a separate bookcase in the lounge—Dickens, Trollope, and Thackeray, Bernard Shaw’s plays in pale green bindings, as well as an entire set of Kipling bound in soft morocco. There was a beautiful three-volume set of Shakespeare’s works, a gilt-edged Milton, and other books, mostly poetry, that my mother had got as school prizes.

Medical books were kept in a special locked cabinet in my parents’ surgery (but the key was in the door, so it was easy to unlock).

The oak-paneled library was the quietest and most beautiful room in the house, to my eyes, and it vied with my little lab as my favorite place to be. I would curl up in a chair and become so absorbed in what I was reading that all sense of time would be lost. Whenever I was late for lunch or dinner I could be found, completely absorbed by a book, in the library. I learned to read early, at three or four, and books, and our library, are among my first memories.

But the Ur-library, for me, was the Willesden Public Library, our own local public library. Here I spent many of the happiest hours of my growing-up years—our house was a five-minute walk from the library—and it was there I received my real education.

On the whole, I disliked school, sitting in class, receiving instruction; information seemed to go in one ear and out by the other. I could not be passive—I had to be active, learn for myself, learn what I wanted, and in the way which suited me best. I was not a good pupil, but I was a good learner, and in Willesden Library—and all the libraries that came later—I roamed the shelves and stacks, had the freedom to select whatever I wanted, to follow paths which fascinated me, to become myself. At the library I felt free—free to look at the thousands, tens of thousands, of books; free to roam and to enjoy the special atmosphere and the quiet companionship of other readers, all, like myself, on quests of their own.

As I got older, my reading was increasingly biased towards the sciences, especially astronomy and chemistry. St. Paul’s School, where I went when I was twelve, had an excellent general library, the Walker Library, which was particularly heavy in history and politics—but it could not provide all of the science and especially chemistry books I now hungered for. But with a special testimonial from one of the school masters, I was able to get a ticket to the library of the Science Museum, and there I devoured the many volumes of Mellor’s Comprehensive Treatise on Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry and the even-longer Gmelin’s Handbook of Inorganic Chemistry.

When I went to university, I had access to Oxford’s two great university libraries, the Radcliffe Science Library and the Bodleian, a wonderful general library that could trace itself back to 1602. It was in the Bodleian that I stumbled upon the now-obscure and forgotten works of Theodore Hook, a man greatly admired in the early nineteenth century for his wit and his genius for theatrical and musical improvisation (he was said to have composed more than five hundred operas on the spot). I became so fascinated by Hook that I decided to write a sort of biography or “case-history” of him. No other library—apart from the British Museum Library—could have provided the materials I needed, and the tranquil atmosphere of the Bodleian was a perfect one in which to write.

But the library I most loved at Oxford was our own library at the Queen’s College. The magnificent library building itself had been designed by Christopher Wren, and beneath this, in an underground maze of heating pipes and shelves, were the vast subterranean holdings of the library. To hold ancient books, incunabula, in my own hands was a new experience for me—I particularly adored Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (1551), richly illustrated with Dürer’s drawing of a rhinoceros and Agassiz’s four-volume work on fossil fishes. It was there, too, that I saw all of Darwin’s works in their original editions, and it was in the stacks that I found and fell in love with all the works of Sir Thomas Browne—his Religio Medici, his Hydrotaphia, and The Garden of Cyrus (The Quincunciall Lozenge). How absurd some of these were, but how magnificent the language! And if Browne’s classical magniloquence became too much at times, one could switch to the lapidary cut-and-thrust of Swift—all of whose works, of course, were there in their original editions. While I had grown up on the nineteenth-century works that my parents favored, it was the catacombs of the Queen’s library that introduced me to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature—John-son, Hume, Pope, and Dryden. All of these books were freely available, not in some special, locked-away rare books enclave, but just sitting on the shelves, as they had done (I imagined) since their original publication. It was in the vaults of the Queen’s College that I really gained a sense of history, and of my own language.

I first came to New York City in 1965, and at that time I had a horrid, pokey little apartment in which there were almost no surfaces to read or write on. I was just able, holding an elbow awkwardly aloft, to write some of Migraine on the top of the refrigerator. I longed for spaciousness. Fortunately, the library at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where I worked, had this in abundance. I would sit at a large table to read or write for a while, and then wander around the shelves and stacks. I never knew what my eyes might alight upon, but I would sometimes discover unexpected treasures, lucky finds, and bring these back to my seat.

Though the library was quiet, whispered conversations might start in the stacks—two of you, perhaps, were searching for the same old book, the same bound volumes of Brain from 1890—and conversations could lead to friendships. All of us in the library were reading our own books, absorbed in our own worlds, and yet there was a sense of community, even intimacy. The physicality of books—along with their places and their neighbors on the bookshelves—was part of this camaraderie: handling books, sharing them, passing them between us, even seeing the names of previous readers and the dates they took books out.

But a shift was occurring by the 1990s. I would continue to visit the library frequently, sitting at a table with a mountain of books in front of me, but students increasingly ignored the bookshelves, accessing what they needed with their computers. Few of them went to the shelves anymore. The books, so far as they were concerned, were unnecessary. And since the majority of users were no longer using the books themselves, the college decided, ultimately, to dispose of them.

I had no idea that this was happening—not only in the AECOM library but in college and public libraries all over the country. I was horrified when I visited the library a couple of months ago and found the shelves, once overflowing, sparsely occupied. Over the last few years, most of the books, it seems, have been thrown out, with remarkably little objection from anyone. I felt that a murder, a crime had been committed—the destruction of centuries of knowledge. Seeing my distress, a librarian reassured me that everything “of worth” had been digitized. But I do not use a computer, and I am deeply saddened by the loss of books, even bound periodicals, for there is something irreplaceable about a physical book: its look, its smell, its heft. I thought of how the library once cherished “old” books, had a special room for old and rare books; and how in 1967, rummaging through the stacks, I had found an 1873 book, Edward Liveing’s Megrim, which inspired me to write my own first book.