By Anne Matthews
March 1, 2013
I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) … the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing. … And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to “have it again” was the supreme and only important object of desire.
—C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1955
I am not normally a profligate person—I save, I invest, I understand the sedimentary ecstasies of compound interest—but when set loose in the poetry section of any bookstore on the planet I seem to encounter a version of myself that is thoroughly stripped of restraint. … Am I putting my family’s retirement fund in peril for the sake of enjambment and interior rhyme? … [T]he only thing less pragmatic than buying a random book of poetry is buying, say, five of them.
—Jeff Gordinier, “Absolute Necessities,” poetryfoundation.org, 2009
When the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon. … Sleep forsook her eyes, meals stood untasted. … The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her ‘vortex,’ hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.
—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1868
This obsessive, driven, relentless pursuit is a characteristically American struggle—the exhausting daily application of the Declaration of Independence. … [Yet] the people taking part in “happiness pursuits,” as a rule, don’t seem very happy. At the one and only yoga class I attended, shortly after arriving in the United States, the tension and misery in the room were palpable. Which makes sense, because a person who was already feeling happy would be unlikely to waste the sensation in a sweaty room at the Y.M.C.A. … The happy person would be more likely to be off doing something fun, like sitting in the park drinking.
—Ruth Whippman, “America the Anxious,” The New York Times, September 22, 2012
I think I was glad to have my better impulses thus buttressed and guarded by the terrors of the scaffold … [but] as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for license. … Hyde in danger of his life was a creature new to me: shaken with inordinate anger, strung to the pitch of murder, lusting to inflict pain.
—Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886
Pain in poker comes in many forms … the tedium of sitting at a filthy felt table for hours, sometimes days, feigning a studied intensity … the anxiety over explaining to a loved one exactly how you lost $30,000 in the course of a weekend. … [Yet] all of guilt’s iterations can be cleansed by one monster score. Hit a set of 6s on a J-6-2 rainbow flop … and you stop worrying about ethics and your misspent youth.
—Jay Caspian Kang, “The High Is Always the Pain and the Pain Is Always the High,” themorningnews.org, October 8, 2010
The wonderful purging of the passions that we all experienced in the fall of ’51, the despair groaned out over the fate of the Dodgers, from whom the league pennant was snatched at the last minute, give us some idea of what Greek tragedy was like.
—Jacques Barzun, “On Baseball,” 1953
[The mesmerists] came, as arranged, at my worst hour of the day, between the expiration of one opiate and the taking of another. … [A] delicious sensation of ease spread through me—a cool comfort, before which all pain and distress gave way, oozing out, as it were, at the soles of my feet.
—Harriet Martineau, 1844
[P]aper is our second skin. … We consume more paper, pound for pound, than any other product, food included. We are paper omnivores. We devour it: any kind, from anywhere … our absolute all-time favourite self-extending prosthetic technology. … When Gustave Flaubert climbed the Great Pyramid in 1849 he was appalled to find an ad for wallpaper at the top.
—Ian Sansom, “Can Paper Survive the Digital Age?” The Guardian, November 9, 2012
When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line … he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him. In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him. … [H]is struggles are all the world sees and it usually misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.
—Karl A. Menninger, The Human Mind, 1930
[In Honolulu] I sat on the mall for a while and ate caramel corn. In the end I bought not The New York Times at all but two straw hats at Liberty House, four bottles of nail enamel at Woolworth’s, and a toaster, on sale, at Sears. In the literature of shopping centers these would be described as impulse purchases, but the impulse here was obscure. I do not wear hats, nor do I like caramel corn. I do not use nail enamel. Yet flying back across the Pacific I regretted only the toaster.
—Joan Didion, “On the Mall,” 1975
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. … Look at this tangle of thorns.
—Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1955
I used to wake each morning and return to the love, anger, jealousy, deceit of my characters. … I was not conscious of fatigue, and I did not feel my age. But now? [Otello] has become totally detached from me; and the place that it occupied within me was so great that I now feel an enormous void, which I think I shall never be able to fill.
—Giuseppe Verdi (age 73), 1887
Eating an apple at Thy house. … Making pies on Sunday night. … Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer. Denying that I did so. … Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar. … Punching my sister. … Glutiny in my sickness. … Glutony.
—Isaac Newton (age 19), Fitzwilliam Notebook, 1662
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.