There is a part of everything that remains unexplored, for we have fallen into the habit of remembering, whenever we use our eyes, what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the slightest thing contains a little that is unknown. We must find it. To describe a blazing fire or a tree in a plain, we must remain before that fire or that tree until they no longer resemble for us any other tree or any other fire.

–Gustave Flaubert

Why should these books be, as they say, in every home? And why these books especially in every American home? They are so pretty, they are ours and for us, but beyond typography and even translation — we of all people need most the Greek tragedians. Hard as it may be for you and me to believe, irrefutable evidence is piling up inescapably that an appreciable number of Americans really do believe the Great Fraud of the mass culture, what the French call the hallucination publicitaire. They only know what they read in the papers. They think it is really like the movies. Try saying to a well-educated American, even a psychoanalyst or a fashionable minister of God, “Life is tragic.” Nine times out of ten he will answer, “Oh, well, now, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic as all that.” He doesn’t know that the art of being civilized is the art of learning to read between the lies. He is very far indeed from knowing that the deepest, the most unshakable optimism is based on the tragic sense of life, as one good European once called it. They say our civilization is based on the Bible, Homer and the Greek tragedians. For my taste, the Bible is a dangerous book, because it can be, and with few exceptions has been, interpreted to give guarantees to life that life in fact never offers. Here in these plays, as in Homer, is life as it really is, men as we really are, when we beat our wives or cheat our grocer or plan our perfect societies or run for office or write our poems — but projected against the empty and splendid heavens, and made noble. Take away the costumes and the grand language, it is the same pride, the same doom haunting Orestes that haunts every certified public accountant, every housewife, every automobile salesman. How much nicer people, and how much happier, they’d all be if they only knew it. Here is their chance to learn.

–Kenneth Rexroth, 1959

“But there is– there is a way. There is a way beyond death. Back to life. To life beyond death, life without death. That is– what they seek. That is what we seek. You– you above all must know– must know of that way–“

“I do not.

“Aye, I know what they think they seek. But I know it to be a lie.

“Listen to me, Arren. You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor any thing. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose.

“…That selfhood which is our torment, and our treasure, and our humanity, does not endure. It changes; it is gone, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease, to save one wave, to save yourself? …That is what they seek to do… And this message I do not hear, Arren, for I will not hear it. I will not take the counsel of despair. I am deaf; I am blind. You are my guide. …And we must go on. We must go on. We must go all the way. We must come to the place where the sea runs dry and joy runs out, the place to which your mortal terror draws you.”

–From The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin, 1929-2018

“I am conscious of being only an individual struggling weakly against the stream of time.” –Ludwig Boltzmann, Lectures on Gas Theory, 1898

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Existentialism: a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual in a hostile or indifferent universe. –American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed.

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“How shall I describe it– this feeling that there was a Spirit of Cold about on every hand, eager to destroy? One could feel it tapping, tapping, for weak places in one’s covering and in one’s vitality.” –Emerson Hough, on spending the night in a snow shelter in Hayden Valley, March 22, 1894