It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.
From Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed.
Some man of powerful character to command a person, morally subjected to him, to perform some act. The commanding person suddenly to die; and, for all the rest of his life, the subjected one continues to perform that act.
“Solomon dies during the building of the temple, but his body remains leaning on a staff, and overlooking the workmen, as if it were alive.”
A tri-weekly paper, to be called the Tertian Ague.
Subject for a picture,–Satan’s reappearance in Pandemonium, shining out from a mist with “shape star-bright.”
Five points of Theology,–Five Points at New York.
- A house to be built over a natural spring of inflammable gas, and to be constantly illuminated therewith. What moral could be drawn from this? It is carburetted hydrogen gas, and is cooled from a soft shale or slate, which is sometimes bituminous, and contains more or less carbonate of lime. It appears in the vicinity of Lockport and Niagara Falls, and elsewhere in New York. I believe it indicates coal. At Fredonia, the whole village is lighted by it. Elsewhere, a farm-house was lighted by it, and no other fuel used in the coldest weather.
- Gnomes, or other mischievous little fiends, to be represented as burrowing in the hollow teeth of some person who has subjected himself to their power. It should be a child’s story. This should be one of many modes of petty torment. They should be contrasted with beneficent fairies, who minister to the pleasures of the good.
- Some very famous jewel or other thing, much talked of all over the world. Some person to meet with it, and get possession of it in some unexpected manner, amid homely circumstances.
- To poison a person or a party of persons with the sacramental wine.
- A cloud in the shape of an old woman kneeling, with arms extended towards the moon.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.
- In an old London newspaper, 1678, there is an advertisement, among other goods at auction, of a black girl, about fifteen years old, to be sold.
- We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream: it may be so the moment after death.
- The race of mankind to be swept away, leaving all their cities and works. Then another human pair to be placed in the world, with native intelligence like Adam and Eve, but knowing nothing of their predecessors or of their own nature and destiny. They, perhaps, to be described as working out this knowledge by their sympathy with what they saw, and by their own feelings.
- A singular fact, that, when man is a brute, he is the most sensual and loathsome of all brutes.
- A snake taken into a man’s stomach and nourished there from fifteen years to thirty-five, tormenting him most horribly. A type of envy or some other evil passion.
- A sketch illustrating the imperfect compensations which time makes for its devastations on the person,–giving a wreath of laurel while it causes baldness, honors for infirmities, wealth for a broken constitution,–and at last, when a man has everything that seems desirable, death seizes him. To contrast the man who has thus reached the summit of ambition with the ambitious youth.
Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.
—Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books. (See also: Ten ideas and then Twenty ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books).
- A tree, tall and venerable, to be said by tradition to have been the staff of some famous man, who happened to thrust it into the ground, where it took root.
- A fellow without money, having a hundred and seventy miles to go, fastened a chain and padlock to his legs, and lay down to sleep in a field. He was apprehended, and carried gratis to a jail in the town whither he desired to go.
- An old volume in a large library,–every one to be afraid to unclasp and open it, because it was said to be a book of magic.
- A ghost seen by moonlight; when the moon was out, it would shine and melt through the airy substance of the ghost, as through a cloud.
- A scold and a blockhead,–brimstone and wood,–a good match.
- To make one’s own reflection in a mirror the subject of a story.
- In a dream to wander to some place where may be heard the complaints of all the miserable on earth.
- Some common quality or circumstance that should bring together people the most unlike in all other respects, and make a brotherhood and sisterhood of them,–the rich and the proud finding themselves in the same category with the mean and the despised.
- A person to consider himself as the prime mover of certain remarkable events, but to discover that his actions have not contributed in the least thereto. Another person to be the cause, without suspecting it.
- A person or family long desires some particular good. At last it comes in such profusion as to be the great pest of their lives.
—Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books. (See also: Twenty ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books)
1. A hint of a story,–some incident which should bring on a general war; and the chief actor in the incident to have something corresponding to the mischief he had caused.
2. A sketch to be given of a modern reformer,–a type of the extreme doctrines on the subject of slaves, cold water, and other such topics. He goes about the streets haranguing most eloquently, and is on the point of making many converts, when his labors are suddenly interrupted by the appearance of the keeper of a mad-house, whence he has escaped. Much may be made of this idea.
3. A change from a gay young girl to an old woman; the melancholy events, the effects of which have clustered around her character, and gradually imbued it with their influence, till she becomes a lover of sick-chambers, taking pleasure in receiving dying breaths and in laying out the dead; also having her mind full of funeral reminiscences, and possessing more acquaintances beneath the burial turf than above it.
4. A well-concerted train of events to be thrown into confusion by some misplaced circumstance, unsuspected till the catastrophe, yet exerting its influence from beginning to end.
5. On the common, at dusk, after a salute from two field-pieces, the smoke lay long and heavily on the ground, without much spreading beyond the original space over which it had gushed from the guns. It was about the height of a man. The evening clear, but with an autumnal chill.
6. The world is so sad and solemn, that things meant in jest are liable, by an overpowering influence, to become dreadful earnest,–gayly dressed fantasies turning to ghostly and black-clad images of themselves.
7. A story, the hero of which is to be represented as naturally capable of deep and strong passion, and looking forward to the time when he shall feel passionate love, which is to be the great event of his existence. But it so chances that he never falls in love, and although he gives up the expectation of so doing, and marries calmly, yet it is somewhat sadly, with sentiments merely of esteem for his bride. The lady might be one who had loved him early in life, but whom then, in his expectation of passionate love, he had scorned.
8. The scene of a story or sketch to be laid within the light of a street-lantern; the time, when the lamp is near going out; and the catastrophe to be simultaneous with the last flickering gleam.
9. The peculiar weariness and depression of spirits which is felt after a day wasted in turning over a magazine or other light miscellany, different from the state of the mind after severe study; because there has been no excitement, no difficulties to be overcome, but the spirits have evaporated insensibly.
10. To represent the process by which sober truth gradually strips off all the beautiful draperies with which imagination has enveloped a beloved object, till from an angel she turns out to be a merely ordinary woman. This to be done without caricature, perhaps with a quiet humor interfused, but the prevailing impression to be a sad one. The story might consist of the various alterations in the feelings of the absent lover, caused by successive events that display the true character of his mistress; and the catastrophe should take place at their meeting, when he finds himself equally disappointed in her person; or the whole spirit of the thing may here be reproduced.
11. Two persons might be bitter enemies through life, and mutually cause the ruin of one another, and of all that were dear to them. Finally, meeting at the funeral of a grandchild, the offspring of a son and daughter married without their consent,–and who, as well as the child, had been the victims of their hatred,–they might discover that the supposed ground of the quarrel was altogether a mistake, and then be wofully reconciled.
12. Two persons, by mutual agreement, to make their wills in each other’s favor, then to wait impatiently for one another’s death, and both to be informed of the desired event at the same time. Both, in most joyous sorrow, hasten to be present at the funeral, meet, and find themselves both hoaxed.
13. The story of a man, cold and hard-hearted, and acknowledging no brotherhood with mankind. At his death they might try to dig him a grave, but, at a little space beneath the ground, strike upon a rock, as if the earth refused to receive the unnatural son into her bosom. Then they would put him into an old sepulchre, where the coffins and corpses were all turned to dust, and so he would be alone. Then the body would petrify; and he having died in some characteristic act and expression, he would seem, through endless ages of death, to repel society as in life, and no one would be buried in that tomb forever.
14. Canon transformed to church-bells.
15. A person, even before middle age, may become musty and faded among the people with whom he has grown up from childhood; but, by migrating to a new place, he appears fresh with the effect of youth, which may be communicated from the impressions of others to his own feelings.
16. In an old house, a mysterious knocking might be heard on the wall, where had formerly been a door-way, now bricked up.
17. It might be stated, as the closing circumstance of a tale, that the body of one of the characters had been petrified, and still existed in that state.
18. A young man to win the love of a girl, without any serious intentions, and to find that in that love, which might have been the greatest blessing of his life, he had conjured up a spirit of mischief which pursued him throughout his whole career,–and this without any revengeful purposes on the part of the deserted girl.
19. Two lovers, or other persons, on the most private business, to appoint a meeting in what they supposed to be a place of the utmost solitude, and to find it thronged with people.
20. Some treasure or other thing to be buried, and a tree planted directly over the spot, so as to embrace it with its roots.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.
Essay describing the structure of Infinite Jest as Hofstadterian strange loop, the novel’s structure being that of a circle with a missing section—between the last and first pages—which must be filled in by the reader who has been, by the end of the novel, prepared, practiced, coached to do so, just as life allegedly teaches one how to die.
From Evan Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks.
He was an aphorism writer, there are countless aphorisms of his, I thought, one can assume he destroyed them, I write aphorisms, he said over and over, I thought, that is a minor art of the intellectual asthma from which certain people, about all in France, have lived and still live, so-called half philosophers for nurses’ night tables, I could also say calendar philosophers for everybody and anybody, whose sayings eventually find their way onto the walls of every dentist’s waiting room; the so-called depressing ones are, like the so-called cheerful ones, equally disgusting.
From Thomas Bernhard’s novel The Loser.
“Some Principles of Democracy and Deconstruction—American or Otherwise” by Sam Kimball.
1. Democracy and deconstruction name the namelessness of a we, the people in relation to this people’s unimaginable possibilities of collective self-identification to come.
2. For this reason democracy and deconstruction locate the we in a future that transcends any possible transcendence of time, and therefore that remains utterly contingent and extinguishable, able to be obliterated in an apocalypse of the name.
3. Democracy and deconstruction attempt to respond to a demand—untraceable to any face or mind, to any consciousness—for absolute justice.
4. To this end, and because “we are all heir, at least, to persons or events marked, in an essential, interior, ineffaceable fashion, by crimes against humanity” (Derrida, Of Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 29), democracy and deconstruction demand of the citizen to come an attitude of radical forgiveness and hospitality.
5. To this same end, and for similar reasons, democracy and deconstruction also entail a radical affirmation—that is, they are ways of saying “Yes?” or “Who’s there?” in the absence of any determinate voicing.
6. This means that democracy and deconstruction respond to a call that comes from an unimaginable and indeterminate future.
7. For all these reasons as well as the fact that “all nation-states are born and found themselves in violence” (Of Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 57), democracy and deconstruction are provisional names for an historically unrealized ideal.
8. Thus, democracy and deconstruction require an incessant work of critique.
9. Democracy and deconstruction are ways of working toward forms of community that must necessarily exceed, transgress, transcend, and therefore remark all political borders, most especially those that define the sovereignty of the nation-state.
10. The spirit of the spirit of democracy and deconstruction has no single emotional marker, cannot be contained within or encompassed by any single emotional apprehension, is not identifiable as an affective state.
11. Democracy and deconstruction are inseparable from the fictionalizing, virtualizing power of literature.