Category Archives: Marginalia

Marginalia, no.353

There are two hotels in Djang: the Hotel Windsor and, across the street, the Hotel Anti-Windsor.

~ Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines

The choice in this case is less clear than the choice my wife and I conceived on seeing one day that the retail space next to Super Donut was vacant. How could we fail to succeed, we thought, if we rented the spot and opened Super Duper Donut right next door? Who would settle for a merely super donut when he could have a super duper donut instead?

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Marginalia, no.352

When men are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

~ Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind

Should we find this dismaying? Our habits of imitation may be explained on the one hand by the uniformity of human desires and, on the other, by the diversity of human interests. Nature in each of us wants the same things. Food, shelter, sex, influence, books; the catalog isn’t long. And no matter how far afield our curiosity moves us (even so far as the gut flora of dust mites), we can be sure that someone else has already cut a path. We inevitably find company, even when we don’t want it.

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Marginalia, no.351

“I’ve got a couple skulls down in the crypt,” he said, “come and see those. Oh, do come and see the skulls! You are a young man out for a holiday, and you want to enjoy yourself. Come and see the skulls!”

~ Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

My idea of a good time generally does not involve skull viewing, but perhaps that’s only because the opportunity so rarely presents itself. And who wouldn’t, deep down, like a human skull for his work desk, where he can sit alas-Yoricking to his heart’s content rather than slave away at that damned presentation?

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Marginalia, no.350

When very bored recite: ‘It was during the next twenty minutes that there occurred one of those tiny incidents which revolutionize the whole course of our life and alter the face of history. Truly we are the playthings of enormous fates.’

~ Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

I begin to understand why nothing really remarkable ever happens to me: I haven’t been bored in about twenty-five years.

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Marginalia, no.349

We wot never whom God loveth & whom God hateth.

~ The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

The Internet was supposed to bring people together in a warm fraternal embrace of global dimensions. That’s what they told us back in the mid-’90s. Instead, it’s made it easier to hate, and be hated by, people on the other side of the world whom, in the old days, we never knew existed.

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Marginalia, no.348

That human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

I’m convinced that we have Schopenhauer to thank for all those over-serious European films where people mope around wintry granite cities and have loveless relationships and opine about how suicide is the only really logical option. I don’t appreciate his general philosophy but there are some colorful vistas on the way to hell, and reading Schopenhauer is (like watching those awful movies) a sick kind of fun.

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Marginalia, no.347

Each of us in his own person feels that a high-hearted indifference to life would expiate all his short-comings.

~ William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

It certainly helps – but there’s a difference between pretending not to care about things you really do care about and not caring overmuch about things you cannot change. The former is culpable; the latter, I think, is only healthy. It’s difficult sometimes to know which failings are fixable and which are permanent features of your character. Once your chronic short-comings are identified, however, it’s better (in most cases) to forgive yourself and take refuge in some high-hearted indifference. A perfectly earnest life is perfectly unlivable.

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