By Anne Matthews
November 30, 2011
To the spectral tarsier in the bush, or to the owl in the churchyard tower, man and his lights must truly hold a demonic menace. Having journeyed once along the dark side of the planet, I am willing to testify that it is a shifting and unmapped domain of terrors. But as one demon to another … I have helped a bat escape from a university classroom, and I have never told on a frightened owl I once saw perched on the curtain rod above a Pullman berth. Somewhere in the blasts over the roaring cliff of Chaos I may meet their like again.
—Loren Eiseley, The Night Country, 1971
People react to fear, not love; they don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.
—Richard M. Nixon, as reported on the PBS program The American Experience, 1990
Twelve … thinks of criminals and killers and men bothering him on the street. … Thirteens have the fear that comes when one is hemmed in, confined by a crowd or a subway or even a snow fort. … Fourteens [dread] being out in the dark … [or] walking on a soft, mushy bottom in the water. This is an age when experience may resolve the fear. The reading of Hiroshima absorbed one girl’s fear of atomic bombs; really being lost in the woods and finding his way out solved another boy’s fear of being lost in the woods.
—Arnold Gesell, et. al., Youth: The Years from Ten to Sixteen, 1956
[H. P. Lovecraft] was also frightened of invertebrates, marine life in general, temperatures below freezing, fat people, people of other races, race-mixing, slums, percussion instruments, caves, cellars, old age, great expanses of time, monumental architecture, non-Euclidean geometry, deserts, oceans, rats, dogs, the New England countryside, New York City, fungi and molds, viscous substances, medical experiments, dreams, brittle textures, gelatinous textures, the color gray, plant life of diverse sorts, memory lapses, old books, heredity, mists, gases, whistling, whispering—the things that did not frighten him would probably make a shorter list.
—Luc Sante, “The Heroic Nerd,” 2006
Fear is the basic condition … the job that we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time.
—David Foster Wallace, in Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, 2010
[Our grandparents] had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side … it did not seem unjust that the way to free land in California involved death and difficulty and dirt. In a diary kept during the winter of 1846, an emigrating twelve-year-old named Narcissa Cornwall noted coolly: “Father was busy reading and did not notice that the house was being filled with strange Indians until Mother spoke about it.” Even lacking any clue as to what Mother said, one can scarcely fail to be impressed by the whole incident: the father reading, the Indians filing in, the mother choosing the words that would not alarm. … Indians were simply part of the donnée.
—Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect,” Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968
To keep ourselves from feeling panicked, we have to build a much denser wall of denial and self-deception, which we construct from the building blocks that the Buddhist teachings call the three poisons: passion, aggression and ignorance … When circumstances bring our emotions to a sharp point, at that point both confusion and wakefulness emerge from the same ground … that too is smiling at our fear. In the Kagyu tradition, this is also called practicing in the place where rock meets bone … in that moment, the closing bell of the stock market is no different from the bell that calls us to the shrine room.
—Carolyn Rose Gimian, “Smile at Fear,” The Best Buddhist Writing 2010, ed. Melvin McLeod
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
—Benjamin Franklin, message sent from the Pennsylvania Assembly, 1755
We tried to live with 120 percent intensity, rather than waiting for death. We read and read, trying to understand why we had to die in our early twenties. We felt the clock ticking away towards our death, every sound of the clock shortening our lives.
—Irokawa Daikichi, from Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers, 2006
Osa Johnson, the African explorer of the 1920s, once wrote about the way the fear she felt in front of a cannibal chief dissipated after she had seen him on film. Instead of a ferocious, immediate human being, he had become “a screen personality”—intimately accessible, unthreatening, enclosed—turned by film into an ironic version of himself.
—Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown, 1997
If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards need to prove their bravery. … And so you will sledge nearly alone, but … if you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.
—Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, 1922
I begin to believe in only one civilising influence—the discovery one of these days of a destructive agent so terrible that War shall mean annihilation and men’s fears shall force them to keep the peace.
—Wilkie Collins, 1870
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever,
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
—Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Garden of Proserpine, 1866
[A]s he sat down on the log the crooked print, the warped indentation in the wet ground which while he looked at it continued to fill with water until it was level full and the water began to overflow and the sides of the print began to dissolve away.
—William Faulkner, “The Bear,” 1942
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.