“Thus the first capacity of human intellect is that the mind is fitted to receive the impressions made on it; either through the senses by outward objects, or by its own operations when it reflects on them. This is the first step a man makes towards the discovery of anything, and the groundwork whereon to build all those notions which ever he shall have naturally in this world. All those sublime thoughts which tower above the clouds, and reach as high as heaven itself, take their rise and footing here: in all that great extent wherein the mind wanders, in those remote speculations it may seem to be elevated with, it stirs not one jot beyond those ideas which sense or reflection have offered for its contemplation.”

John Locke. 1690. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

each day

“She arches her body like a cat on a stretch. She nuzzles her cunt into my face like a filly at the gate. She smells of the sea. She smells of rockpools when I was a child. She keeps a starfish in there. I crouch down to taste the salt, to run my fingers around the rim. She opens and shuts like a sea anemone. She’s refilled each day with fresh tides of longing.”

– Jeanette Winterson, ‘Written on the Body’

wild life narrator

The natural born cheater is a deadly animal. Research suggests that a cheater can comfortably live up to nine lives simultaneously. That’s why it moves in for the kill so fast. There is very little at stake. Its young must fend for themselves from an early age. Just look at it go! The finesse, the merciless focus, the fondness for black eyeliner. But the cheater has little stamina. It tires quickly of the chase, seeking new quarry rather than putting in effort beyond a certain point… Success! Yet what a bloody mess afterwards as it lies licking its chops… Replete… for tonight.

resolutions by franz kafka

To lift yourself out of a miserable mood, even if you have to do it by strength of will, should be easy. I force myself out of my chair, stride around the table, exercise my head and neck, make my eyes sparkle, tighten the muscles around them. Defy my own feelings, welcome A. enthusiastically supposing he comes to see me, amiably tolerate B. in my room, swallow all that is said at C.’s, whatever pain and trouble it may cost me, in long draughts.

Yet even if I manage that, one single slip, and a slip cannot be avoided, will stop the whole process, easy and painful alike, and I will have to shrink back into my own circle again.

So perhaps the best resource is to meet everything passively, to make yourself an inert mass, and, if you feel that you are being carried away, not to let yourself be lured into taking a single unnecessary step, to stare at others with the eyes of an animal, to feel no compunction, in short, with your own hand to throttle down whatever ghostly life remains in you, that is, to enlarge the final peace of the graveyard and let nothing survive save that.

A characteristic movement in such a condition is to run your little finger along your eyebrows.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

pessoa: “because i’ve already seen cats staring at the moon”

Life would be unbearable if we made ourselves conscious of it. Happily we don’t do so. We live with the same unconsciousness as the animals, in the same futile and useless way, and if we anticipate death, which might be assumed, though one can’t be certain, we anticipate it by way of forgetting so much and with so many distractions and subterfuges that we can scarcely say we think about it at all.

So we live our lives, with little grounds for thinking we’re superior to animals. Our difference from them consists in the purely external detail that we speak and write, that we have the abstract intelligence for both distancing ourselves by employing it concretely and by imagining impossible things. All those qualities, therefore, are accidents of our basic organism. Speaking and writing do nothing new for our primordial instinct to live without knowing how. Our abstract intelligence is of no use except in concocting systems or notions about half-systems rather than permitting us to be animals out under the sun. Our imagination of the impossible is not exclusive to us, because I’ve already seen cats staring at the moon, and I don’t know whether they weren’t yearning for it.

– Fernando Pessoa, Always Astonished (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988), transl. Edwin Honig, pp 118-19.

melancholic creatures

“If melancholy emerges from the depths of the creaturely realm to which the speculative thought of the age felt bound by the bonds of the church itself, then this explained its omnipotence. In fact it is the most genuinely creaturely of the contemplative impulses, and it has always been noticed that its power need be no less in the gaze of a dog than in the attitude of a pensive genius. ‘Sir, sorrow was not ordained for beasts but men, yet if men do exceed in it they become beasts’, says Sancho Panza to Don Quixote.”

– Walter Benjamin, from The Origin of German Tragic Drama