"For a pure sense of being tumultuously alive, you can't beat the nasty side of existence. I may not have been a matinee idol, but say what you will about me, it's been a real human life!" Mickey Sabbath, in Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My own favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and Muddling through Life after Life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

From the Novel "The Impostor"

My last post reminded of something I wrote a long time ago.


George remembers a poster on the wall in a stairwell of his high school that read, “Who you are is a matter of how you spend your time.” Was there a picture with it? It was just a generic sentiment, of a type he would encounter again and again in the capacity of elevator serviceman for public schools. His school, though, was a private, Catholic one. And now the idea of one’s identity as a function of spent time strikes him as bourgeois, predicated as it is on one’s freedom to choose how to spend that time. At the time, insofar as he paid the poster any attention, he considered it a truism, too obvious to need pointed out. So, he wonders now, is identity itself a luxury, what biologists would call costly signaling? Perhaps the blue collars are closer to the mark when they implicitly take as the more crucial matter that of worth rather than identity. They play their worst life game, at once complaining and bragging about all the responsibilities they have to shoulder, because they’re desperate to establish beyond dispute their indispensability. A man can spend all his time doing things that are interesting, and he himself might even be interesting as a result—an intricate and profound personage—but what’s he ultimately worth? Or a man can devote his days to toil, providing for his dependent and spendthrift wife and his ingrate children, never complaining (except when he does), and he’s worth the world to the company he works for and the family he supports.

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