Quote #17: David Foster Wallace (2006)

We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries—we’re actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation’s responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie. We think of ourselves now as eaters of the pie instead of makers of the pie. So who makes the pie?

Quote #12: Jean-Baptiste Dumas (1844)

Vous voyez qu’à la considérer ainsi, la machine animale devient bien plus facile à comprendre ; c’est l’intermédiaire entre le règne végétal et l’air […] (Essai de statique chimique)

[Translation (from Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France by Greg M. Thomas): “the animal machine is [simply] the intermediary between the plant kingdom and the air […]”

Quote #8: Søren Kierkegaard (1843)

What is going to happen? What will the future bring? I do not know, I have no presentiment. When a spider flings itself from a fixed point down into its consequences, it continually sees before it an empty space in which it can find no foothold, however much it stretches. So it is with me; before me is continually an empty space, and I am propelled by a consequence that lies behind me. This life is turned around and dreadful, not to be endured. (Either/Or, I)

It’s important to note that Kierkegaard was writing from a fixed “stage of life” during this period, these fragments pseudonymously written by a certain “A” corresponding to the initial Aesthetic stage which always gives way to despair and dread. So while despair is a very potent emotion in life, it is never – thankfully – an absolute condition, or, at least ethically (the second stage), it shouldn’t be, and religiously (the third stage), it never could be.

Quote #6: Alexander von Humboldt (1808)

New forms, too, enter the common treasury of language. The speech of humans is enlivened by everything indicative of natural truth, be it in the representation of sensory impressions from the outer world or of profoundly stirred thought and inner feelings.

From the 2014 edition of Views of Nature translated by Mark W. Person and published by University of Chicago Press. See this week’s earlier post for more on von Humboldt’s radical ecosemiotics written more than three decades after this passage.

Quote #3: Blaise Pascal

We think playing upon a man is like playing upon an ordinary organ. It is indeed an organ, but strange, shifting and changeable. Those who only know how to play an ordinary organ would never be in tune on this one.

passage 55 from Pensées (1670), published eight years after the Frenchman’s death.