Society

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

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Trust Thyself

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

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Speak Your Latent Conviction

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

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And I Worshiped Them in Silence

In the evening before going to sleep they liked singing in musical and harmonious chorus. In those songs they expressed all the sensations that the parting day had given them, sang its glories and took leave of it. They sang the praises of nature, of the sea, of the woods. They liked making songs about one another, and praised each other like children; they were the simplest songs, but they sprang from their hearts and went to one’s heart. And not only in their songs but in all their lives they seemed to do nothing but admire one another. It was like being in love with each other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling.

Some of their songs, solemn and rapturous, I scarcely understood at all. Though I understood the words I could never fathom their full significance. It remained, as it were, beyond the grasp of my mind, yet my heart unconsciously absorbed it more and more. I often told them that I had had a presentiment of it long before, that this joy and glory had come to me on our earth in the form of a yearning melancholy that at times approached insufferable sorrow; that I had had a foreknowledge of them all and of their glory in the dreams of my heart and the visions of my mind; that often on our earth I could not look at the setting sun without tears. . . that in my hatred for the men of our earth there was always a yearning anguish: why could I not hate them without loving them? why could I not help forgiving them? and in my love for them there was a yearning grief: why could I not love them without hating them? They listened to me, and I saw they could not conceive what I was saying, but I did not regret that I had spoken to them of it: I knew that they understood the intensity of my yearning anguish over those whom I had left. But when they looked at me with their sweet eyes full of love, when I felt that in their presence my heart, too, became as innocent and just as theirs, the feeling of the fullness of life took my breath away, and I worshipped them in silence.

Dostoevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man
translated by constance garnett

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People Are Alone in the World

Insensibility. oh, nature! people are alone in the world. that’s what is so dreadful. “Is there a living man on the plain?” cries the russian legendary hero. I, too, echo the same cry, but no one answers. They say the sun brings life to the universe. The sun will rise and—look at it. Isn’t it dead? Everything is dead. Dead men are everywhere. There are only people in the world, and all around them is silence—that’s what the earth is! “Men love one another!”—who said that? Whose commandment is it? The pendulum is ticking away unfeelingly, dismally. Two o’clock in the morning. Her dear little boots stand by her little bed, as though waiting for her. . . . No, seriously, when they take her away tomorrow, what’s to become of me?

Dostoevsky, A Gently Creature

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The Dream of a Curious Man

Do you know, as i do, how suffering can be savoured, and do you make people say of you, ‘what a strange man!’ I was going to die. my amorous soul felt desire mingled with horror, an illness peculiar to itself;

Anguish and lively hope, without any impulse to protest. the lower the fatal hourglass sank, the more savage and delicious was my torture; all my heart was tearing itself away from the familiar world.

I was like the child desperate to see the play, hating the curtain as one hates a barrier … at last the cold truth revealed itself:

I had died without surprise, and the terrible dawn was enfolding me. – ‘What! is that all?’ The curtain had risen and I was still waiting.

Charles Baudelaire

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Ansel Adams and Robert Frank

Quality doesn’t mean deep blacks and whatever tonal range. That’s not quality, that’s a kind of quality. The pictures of Robert Frank might strike someone as being sloppy–the tone range isn’t right and things like that–but they’re far superior to the pictures of Ansel Adams with regard to quality, because the quality of Ansel Adams, if I may say so, is essentially the quality of a postcard. But the quality of Robert Frank is a quality that has something to do with what he’s doing, what his mind is. It’s not balancing out the sky to the sand and so forth. It’s got to do with intention.

Elliott Erwitt

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I Shall See Her Today!

‘I shall see her today!’ I exclaim in the mornings when I raise and look up the beautiful sun with a glad heart; ‘I shall see her today!’ and then i have no other wishes all day long. Everything, everything is included in that one hope.

In vain I stretch my arms to her when morning comes and I gradually waken from deep dreams, In vain i look for her in my bed at night when some happy, innocent reverie has tricked me into believing I was sitting with her in a meadow, holding her hand and covering it with a thousand kisses. Ah, still half asleep I reach for her, cheered to think she is there-and a flood of tears pours from my sorely beset heart, and I weep inconsolably over my somber future.

Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

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