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Sure. But when you say a talking horse,
you mean a horse that speaks and understands
your language, not a horse who tries—or balks
and chooses not to try—to speak to you
in his. You mean that what you’re keen
to know is what you mostly know
already, not the many things a horse
who spoke as horses really do
and spoke that way to you could teach you.

Robert Bringhurst, “Language Poem”, in Ten Poems with One Title, in The Ridge

I don’t know where I
am either
I said, when you said
that you didn’t know
Then you began to cry
As if trouble and sorrow were
the only reality
the only place
for life

Then you said
that I in any case was not
so unhappy
I did not
deny this

For we know
of each other’s night
of each other’s darkness
of each other’s stars
shimmering darkly

Göran Sonnevi, Disparate, in Mozart’s Third Brain, translated by Rika Lesser

I walked outside and started across campus, sticking to the grassiest and shadiest parts. I’d been there only a few days but had already figured out for myself the shadiest cross-campus route. In fact, I had a good-weather route and an indoor bad-weather route already scouted, one or the other of which I have in fact followed practically every day since. It was late summer and extremely hot, even in the shade. Probably I should have taken the indoor route, but I was feeling surprisingly lively. Light, expansive. I was not dwelling on my disappointing conversation with Maggie, but thinking more generally about careers and what they amounted to. What Maggie’s career had amounted to. The work she’d done had meant something to the world, and her teaching had meant quite a lot to me personally. But I could already see, from the professional perch I had just recently assumed, looking out across the future of my own burgeoning career and thinking about what it would look like when I myself was retiring—I could see how even a career as productive as Maggie’s might look small, in the end, to the person who lived it. I was not depressed, or annoyed at Maggie, but instead was enjoying a kind of pride at how understandable it all seemed. Maggie’s feelings. Maggie’s situation. Everyone’s situation, in the end. How human it was. How inevitable, but also, if you handled it right, how manageable. The toil I’d experienced in my twenties, the struggle with my own fantasies of greatness, or whatever, the mental work I’d done to disabuse myself of vague romantic notions of what I would someday accomplish, all of that seemed, in light of this new completely reasonable mindset, to have paid off. I was an adult. I had a career. I understood what Maggie’s career amounted to, and I did not need to pretend that I would accomplish more. Or that my end point would be any better. My career would be what it would be. My life was not larger than anyone else’s. I felt present, prepared. I even knew enough to know that I could not hang on to this wonderfully enlightened perspective. This was just another attitude I was moving through, and my future self would cycle through all my other moods as regularly as ever.

Martin Riker, The Guest Lecture

One must accept the fact that one’s own life may, from a human and historic point of view, be rendered absolutely meaningless by the course of events in which, while trying to participate reasonably, one has only added to the general confusion—if he has added anything at all. The point is, most people seem to think that this implies despair. That it implies renunciation of all hope and all reason. I don’t see that. I don’t consider that my life has to make perfect sense to me at every moment. I certainly do not think it is at all possible for our society to make sense in the way it thinks it can.

Thomas Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander

The fetishism of the document: the historian believes that the document speaks, speaks for itself. It is Luther’s principle of scriptura sui ipsius interpres; the integrity of scripture, or the historical document, or the literary text; “in eine Urkunde nicht fremde Begriffe hereintragen.” The principle that every document must be interpreted in its own terms was necessarily first established in the case of sacred scripture.

But documents do not speak for themselves. And so there is an inner contradiction: The same man who says scripture is its own interpreter says also that we press Christ against scripture; Christum urgemus contra scripturam. By Christ he means his personal conviction, his private inner light, his inner certainty or intuition. There is in both Protestant religion and modern scholarship a double standard (not the same thing as a twofold vision): they combine self-effacing objectivity with self-asserting subjectivity, a principle of subjective intuition (Dilthey’s verstehen).

Norman O. Brown, Love’s Body

“What you love in a person, Domna,” [Cathy] explained to her, “is his essence, not the dross of appearance. Love is the discovery of essence.” Domna looked up from her bread-pudding. “I think you are too dualistic,” she said, brusquely. “Even in Plato, essence is perceived through existence. There is no gross contradiction, no belying. Shadow is a partial aspect of substance. Appearances intimate to us; they do not flatly deceive.” She put down her spoon. Henry affably nodded. “You’re a handsome girl, Domna,” he reminded. “All handsome people are monists. For the rest of us, there is always the temptation to gnosticism. What we are is not what we see in the mirror, and we know therefore that appearances are fickle. We look to someone else to discover our imperishable essence.”

Mary McCarthy, The Groves of Academe, in Novels and Stories 1942–1963, edited by Thomas Mallon

In the past twenty years, against a backdrop of crumbling infrastructure and declining trust in institutions, [Elon] Musk has sought out business opportunities in crucial areas where, after decades of privatization, the state has receded. The government is now reliant on him, but struggles to respond to his risk-taking, brinkmanship, and caprice. Current and former officials from NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration told me that Musk’s influence had become inescapable in their work, and several of them said that they now treat him like a sort of unelected official. One Pentagon spokesman said that he was keeping Musk apprised of my inquiries about his role in Ukraine and would grant an interview with an official about the matter only with Musk’s permission. “We’ll talk to you if Elon wants us to,” he told me. In a podcast interview last year, Musk was asked whether he has more influence than the American government. He replied immediately, “In some ways.” Reid Hoffman told me that Musk’s attitude is “like Louis XIV: ‘L’état, c’est moi.’ ”

Ronan Farrow, “Elon Musk’s Shadow Rule”

Chaffing and winnowing also bear some resemblance to encryption techniques. Indeed, the process of authenticating packets and then adding chaff achieves confidentiality, and so qualifies as encryption by anyone who uses a definition of encryption that is so broad as to include all techniques for achieving confidentiality. But this fails to note the special structure here, wherein a non-encrypting key-dependent first step (adding authentication) followed by a non-encrypting keyless second step (adding chaff) achieves confidentiality. Since the second step can be performed by anyone […], and since the first step (adding authentication) may be performed for other good reasons, we see something novel, where strong confidentiality can even be obtained without the knowledge and permission of the original sender.

Ronald L. Rivest, “Chaffing and Winnowing: Confidentiality without Encryption”

For Marxian humanism, man does not yet exist. Man is alienated by the society he lives in. He does not yet know what he will be when he becomes himself. But alienated man must be wiped out, and then man as he really ought to be will come into existence.

It is both dangerous and easy to hate man as he is because he is not “what he ought to be.” If we do not first respect what he is we will never suffer him to become what he ought to be: in our impatience we will do away with him altogether. Strange that Marx at first toyed with an idea of what man is and then rejected it, confessing the sin of “idealism”: he had wasted time thinking about an “essence.” For Communism, this is the great philosophical sin.

But if you deny man his essence, you refuse him at the same time the respect that is due to his existence. It is of little avail to deify man if at the same time you do not allow that he is real: if at the same time he remains simply a fluid nonentity, the shadow of the situations into which he is maneuvered by history. What matter if he takes charge of history if history, after all, really determines him anyway? If, in the end, he is only the reflection of his own work?

The great question, then, is the ambivalence of Marxian humanism.

Let us walk along here, says my shadow, and compose a number of sentences, each one of which begins: “You think you are a monk, but…”

Thomas Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander

If the only people qualified to hold opinions are those who “have all the facts,” then politics is not our responsibility. Politics is something that other people do, but not us… The public exists elsewhere, not in our town, where regular people live.

Nina Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life, in Sun-ha Hong, Technologies of Speculation: The Limits of Knowledge in a Data-Driven Society

Science is thought by some to be dry, technical, and quantitative. It is not. Study is exaltation. Fact is miracle. Number is portal. Understanding is joy.

Poetry and spirituality are thought by some to be abstract, ethereal, private. They are not. Nature is language. Mind is sensual. Soul is earth. Transcendance is practical.

Richard J. Nevle and Steven Nightingale, The Paradise Notebooks: 90 Miles across the Sierra Nevada