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Auden on Attention

Choice of attention—to pay attention to this and ignore that—is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.

~ Qtd. in Winnifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

Geoffrey Hill on Making and Self-Making

The world is full of noise, the noise of opinion. Are you going to be able to master some small aspect of it, and use it in the making of your own voice? Or is it stronger than you are? Do I mean stronger or just louder? These particular difficulties, and other vaguer apprehensions seem to me to be the force field of making and, in a way, self-making.

Even now when the things are coming fairly quickly, I do feel that everything that I write is a kind of battle won—or lost—against silence and incoherence. And I think there is something naturally incoherent in me, just as I think there is probably something, at some level, anarchic, because the kind of obsessive concern I have with order in the early work is one that somebody has who feels all the time how endangered order is, and what a potential threat to order he is. 

~ The late Geoffrey Hill

It Tolls for Thee

I will leave you by saying that it seems that a widely predicted outcome of digital culture has come true: that all of the new means of interconnection serve as a vast system of mutual surveillance, that there is now nowhere for us to go where we are not constantly observed and thus constantly judged by everyone around us, that the internet’s great power is not for more human diversity but for more human conformity, that we are now all constantly under supervision, supervision of the bosses and the government and the great Puritan effect of other people’s attention, that we are training generations to fear that people with power are always watching, that the necessary and inevitable effect will be a culture of docility and fear, that the constant guilt by association leads us to relationships that are prophylactic and insincere, that the future is the fascism of the HR department, the totalitarianism of our own grinding uncertainty about who might be offended by what we’ve done, and why, and of never knowing why we’re in trouble but always being keenly aware that we are, where only the wealthy and the connected enjoy the privilege of candor and indifference to offense, our country a democracy of fear.

~ Freddie de Boer, “It Tolls for Thee”

Collect for the First Sunday in Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

~ Book of Common Prayer

Mark Greif on Esteem for the Novel

In his important new book, The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America 1933-1973, Mark Greif, discussing writers like Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow and related 1950s-era debates about what was expected, then, of fiction, points out that there was much talk at the time about the “death of the novel” as a major literary genre and cultural force. At the same time, though, and thanks to books like Invisible Man and The Adventures of Augie March, “esteem for the novel and the novelist, in the abstract, was at a peak,” because the thoughtful American public looked to novels as the best possible venues for a revitalization of the very concept and concerns of the human person for a new era. Reading them, our moral captivation lasts.

~Randy Boyagoda

Auden on Our Media Consumption

[Our] ease of access is in itself a blessing, but its misuse can make it a curse. We are all of us tempted to read more poetry & fiction, look at more pictures, listen to more music than we can possible respond to properly, and the consequence of such overindulgence is not a cultured mind but a consuming one; what it reads, looks at, listens to, is immediately forgotten, leaving no more traces than yesterday’s newspaper.

The first prerequisite for leading any satisfactory kind of personal life in a technological society is the ability to resist distraction. Human beings are not born with this ability but, from about the age of seven onwards, we are all capable of learning to direct our attention on this rather than that, down this path not down that. This concentration of attention is to the inner life what deliberate action is to the outer.

~ W.H. Auden, from his talk “Culture and Leisure”

Italo Calvino on City & Memory

The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.

~Italo Calvino

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on the Reading of Fairy Tales

My Father (who had so little of parental ambition in him, that he had destined his children to be Blacksmiths &c, & had accomplished his intention but for my Mother’s pride & spirit of aggrandizing her family) my father had however resolved, that I should be a Parson. I read every book that came in my way without distinction — and my father was fond of me, & used to take me on his knee, and hold long conversations with me. I remember, that at eight years old I walked with him one winter evening from a farmer’s house, a mile from Ottery — & he told me the names of the stars — and how Jupiter was a thousand times larger than our world — and that the other twinkling stars were Suns that had worlds rolling round them — & when I came home, he shewed me how they rolled round —. I heard him with a profound delight & admiration; but without the least mixture of wonder or incredulity. For from my early reading of Faery Tales, & Genii &c &c — my mind had been habituated to the Vast — & I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief. I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions not by my sight — even at that age. Should children be permitted to read Romances, & Relations of Giants & Magicians, & Genii? — I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative. — I know no other way of giving the mind a love of ‘the Great’, & ‘the Whole’. — Those who have been led to the same truths step by step thro’ the constant testimony of their senses, seem to me to want a sense which I possess — They contemplate nothing but parts — and all parts are necessarily little — and the Universe to them is but a mass of little things. — It is true, that the mind may become credulous & prone to superstition by the former method — but are not the Experimentalists credulous even to madness in believing any absurdity, rather than believe the grandest truths, if they have not the testimony of their own senses in their favor? — I have known some who have been rationally educated, as it is styled. They were marked by a microscopic acuteness; but when they looked at great things, all became a blank & they saw nothing — and denied (very illogically) that any thing could be seen; and uniformly put the negation of a power for the possession of a power — & called the want of imagination Judgment, & the never being moved to Rapture Philosophy!

~Via Alan Jacobs