Commonplace Book


If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

            Nelson Mandela


It [college education] cannot help but be terribly expensive, because only human beings, themselves expensively educated and still in the process of learning, can educate other human beings.  But if it is expensive, it is also invaluable, for the happiness of your child’s life is at stake:  It is education that gives life its significance; these four years of leisure you are giving your child are a necessary luxury.

Brann, Eva T.H.  “Straight talk about the small independent liberal arts colleges.”  Liberal Education.  Fall 95, Vol. 81 Issue 4, p58.


Even the most passionate devotee of a specialty has to be able to explain to a skeptical world how it fits into a whole, carefully established institutional scheme of education and not what it is good for, but simply what its good is.

Brann, Eva T.H.  “Straight talk about the small independent liberal arts colleges.”  Liberal Education.  Fall 95, Vol. 81 Issue 4, p58.


All in all our chief pedagogical faith is that knowledge is not an article sold to students but the effect of communal effort.

                Brann, Eva T. H. The Past-Present.  p344.


National Public Radio.  They help you understand things.  There’s always National Public Radio to help to help me understand, no matter how confused I might be.

                Philip Roth.  Sabbath’s Theater.  p207


To paraphrase a joke by Macedonio Fernandez, the number of things which are not in the bibliographies is so high that it would be impossible to find room for one more missing item.

                Umberto Eco. The Search for the Perfect Language. p. 2


What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death?

                Hunter S. Thompson. Generation of Swine. p. 10


Not even the Book of Revelation threatens a plague of vengeful yahoos.

                Hunter S. Thompson. Generation of Swine. p. 18.


I want to give a really bad party.  I mean it. I want to give a party where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette.  You wait and see.

                Dick Diver in Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Of course I’ve got one, he insisted, --a man can’t live without a moral code.  Mine is that I’m against the burning of witches.  Whenever they burn a witch I get all hot under the collar.

                Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald


“Eighteen—why that’s a terribly important age.”

“I used to think until you’re eighteen nothing matters,”  said Mary.

“That’s right,” Abe agreed. “And afterward it’s the same way.”

                Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Logic is just a clever party trick.

Understanding is a sometime thing.

                McSweeney’s #5


Hegel never had a thought he didn’t publish.

                Cohen, Jokes, 1999, p. 14


In most cases, people, even wicked people are for more naïve and simple-hearted that one generally assumes.  And so are we.

                Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, p. 9


Dig an academic slit trench so deep and so narrow that there’s only room for you.

                Provine, Laughter, p8


Live steady.  Don’t fuck around.  Give anything weird a wide berth—including people. It’s not worth it.  I learned this the hard way, through brutal overindulgence.

                Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, ’72, p. 38


No clock can measure the rate at which a man becomes different: a little, a lot, a little, a lot.

                James Thorpe, Principles of Textual Criticism, p. 45


We are no longer capitalizing the names of deities other than the one true Lord God;

where we previously used "Caucasians," we are now using "ice people"

"bullets" are now referred to as "wizards"

Instead of "victim," please use "hero"

                McSweeney's #1 Copyright page


There are stories of coincidence and chance and intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows?  And we generally say, “well, if that was in a movie I wouldn’t believe it.”  Someone’s so-and-so met someone else’s so-and-so and so on.  And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that these strange things happen all the time.  And so it goes, and so it goes.    And the book says, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”



They all have husbands and wives and children and house and dogs and they’ve all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do.  And what am I gonna say, I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork, how have you been?

                Grosse Point Blank


But when I am alone in the half light of the canyon all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul, and memories. And the sounds of the Big Black Foot River, and a four count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

                A River Runs Through It


If mornings were made for respect, pajamas would come with neckties.

                Emily Rems


What Brando had done was not ask the audience to merely love him, that is only charm; he had made them wish that he would deign to love them. That is a star. On stage or off, that is power, not different in its essence than the power that can lead nations.

                Arthur Miller, Politics and the Art of Acting


Smells of sun-warmed creosote and cold mussels, of boat fuel and football and drying kelp, an almost genetic nostalgia for things maritime and things autumnal . . .

            Jonathan Frazen, The Corrections


“What’s life for?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know either.  But I don’t think it’s about winning.”

                Jonathan Frazen, The Corrections, p. 402

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"


It was impressed upon us, as we sang “America the Beautiful” at the Seder’s conclusion, that the dream of millennia was due to find its ultimate realization not in Jerusalem but in this country.

Tony Kushner, “American Things” in Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness.  New York:  Theater Communications Group, 1995, 5.


We hate ourselves because we cannot forget ourselves, because we cannot think of anything else.  It is inevitable that we should be exasperated by this excessive preference and that we should struggle to triumph over it.  Yet hating ourselves is the least effective stratagem by which to manage it.

           E. M. Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations.  London:  Quartet Books, 1986. p. 139.


Truth may be stranger than fiction, goes the old saw, but it is never as strange as lies. (Or, for that matter, as true.) Proof of which maxim is the fact that I just made it up.

            John Hodgman, The Areas of My Expertise, p. 18.


I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

            George Bernard Shaw


Hey semicolon. Comma or colon? Pick a side. We’re at war.

            Stephen Colbert, July 26, 2007


The alternative [to elite rule] is to raise the level of communication through a direct study of its conditions, its dangers, and its difficulties. The practical side of this undertaking is , if communication be taken in its widest sense, Education.”

Ogden, C. K., and I. A. Richards. 1946. The meaning of meaning. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.


I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music."
            Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Hotel No. 2


Historical facts are well known and easy enough to look up. But facts don't come with their meaning attached, and it is the meaning that interests me.

            Tzvetan Todorov, Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century