Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Decontextualized Quote of the Week: 1

A while ago, I had an idea for a weekly blog feature where I would take a random book from my shelf, open it to a random page and select what I thought was the most interesting or resonant quote from that page to post here. I figured it would be a way to reacquaint myself, momentarily, with a book that I own and have (probably) read, while also taking a look at how an author's words lose and gain meaning when removed from their original context. This is something I do on occasion anyway, and I'm usually surprised at what I find simply by cracking a book to an arbitrary spot. The words are sharper and more charged, if less clearly framed, than they might be if embedded in the body of a story or an essay. Divested of their specific meaning, they are free to take on a broader or even more personal one.

Of course, it can be dangerous or unfair to take a writer's words out of context, but as a fleeting, none-too-serious exercise I find it fascinating. I once had a professor who told the class that we should write each sentence of our essays as if it were being carved, hugely, across the face of a monument. As an undergrad this was terrifying to hear from the man grading your papers, but I suppose blindly plucking a sentence or two from any book is one way to measure it against that standard. The quote below is from Keats. If I keep this up, I may post a short response along with whatever quote I've picked on a given day. Or else just leave it hanging there in cyberspace, for anyone to respond to who might happen by and feel compelled.

"I think I did very wrong to leave you to all the trouble of Endymion—but I could not help it then—another time I shall be more bent to all sort of troubles and disagreeables—young Men for some time have an idea that such a thing as happiness is to be had and therefore are extremely impatient under any unpleasant restraining—in time however, of such stuff is the world about them, they know better and instead of striving from Uneasiness greet it as an habitual sensation, a pannier which is to weigh upon them through life."

—John Keats, from a letter to John Taylor, April 1818,The Selected Letters of John Keats



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