"The idea is that a beautiful image is frameable. Everything you need to see is there: It’s everything you want, and it’s very pleasing because there’s no extra information that you don’t get to see. Everything’s in a nice package for you. But sublime art is unframeable: It’s an image or idea that implies that there’s a bigger image or idea that you can’t see: You’re only getting to look at a fraction of it, and in that way it’s both beautiful and scary, because it’s reminding you that there’s more that you don’t have access to. It’s now sort of left the piece itself and it’s become your own invention, so it’s personal as well as being scary as well as being beautiful, which is what I really like about art like that."
"How heartlessness takes hold and spreads turns out to be the truly unsettling mystery. If the theme doesn’t generate intense emotional suspense—and it mostly doesn’t—that is Li’s point, yet also her problem. Life loses momentum and direction for those who cut off the past, shun purpose, evade commitment: the message recurs in the many aphoristic insights about anomie running through a novel that itself sometimes feels static. Yet Li’s characters, on a quest for what one of them calls “imperviousness,” can’t escape inner turmoil, or an author alert to every snare they set for themselves. Moran, once a sunny girl, hasn’t found peaceful solitude in fleeing to America. She fends off intimacy, only to discover that “what she had was a never-ending quarantine.” Boyang, a successful Beijing businessman, gets entrapped as he cultivates callousness, too. Though not “immune to the pains caused by his selfishness,” he is numb to his own desires.
Li’s diagnosis of her emotional shut-ins, whose protective urges have backfired, is alarmingly acute. Dire external threats to moral integrity and personal freedom may have mostly disappeared in China—as in America—but the soul’s defense mechanisms can still go very awry. The allure of blinkered innocence, her characters reveal, fuels corrosive cynicism as much as any ruthless drive to succeed does. For autoimmune disorders of the spirit, Li wisely refuses the comfort of an easy cure."
"A Chekhov From China," Ann Hulbert
(Source: The Atlantic)
"And to all the other sharp knives out there: If someone tells you that you make it ALL ABOUT YOU all the time, that you’re into drama, and really, you’re just trying to connect, to get to the truth, to share yourself, to hear someone else, to feel them, to let them in? If you know that you listen and you’re a good partner or a good friend, and you know when to shut up, and someone STILL says this to you, despite ample evidence that it’s simply not true? Don’t try harder with that person. When you’re trying to make deep connections in a world that is flinchy and dismissive of deep connections, sometimes you open your heart, and instead of getting love in return, someone will say you’re being a troublemaker.
They just don’t get it. They aren’t for you. Walk away. You have worlds inside you—swirling, colorful, mournful, generous, soaring, hopeful, searing, heartbreaking worlds. You cannot offer just a tiny slice of you. You cannot hold back the flood. You want to share those worlds. You are way too big, too complicated, too glorious and infinitely sad and unspeakably divine. You have to share all of it. Find someone worthy of all of it. Find someone who wants ALL OF IT."
(Source: The Awl)
"The world had taught me I could be a pretty decent basketball player. I’m grateful for that; it taught me a lot. But I taught myself, with the help of some great teachers, that I needed to write. So I went.
It’s very easy to be defined by your circumstances. We’re all dealt such drastically different hands of cards. Think about it: Some kids’ parents are 100 percent ready for their arrival. They have a dope room, great clothes, and a whole bunch of people ready to love them. Doesn’t that teach you certain things about yourself? But other kids, they pop up at a very inconvenient time for everybody. And that teaches you certain lessons, too.
Nonetheless, there comes a time when you start to just feel responsible for yourself. Yes, you’re at the mercy of whatever life grants you—but that second education is taking the power back. Developing the ability to say, well, certain things happened, but now I would like to do this or that, and I don’t see why I can’t. We’re always being told who we can be or we can’t be, we’re always having labels slapped on. This is what black guys do, exclusively. Or if you do that, you’re maybe not such a black guy. Of if you’re an athlete, you can’t write—and so on. The second education means broadening your horizons—taking risks to definite yourself against all odds. History is written every day, and nothing is certain. Maybe you’re writing towards a thought of school or tradition that you’re not really aware of yet—and maybe it doesn’t yet exist. But you can come to define it."
(Source: The Atlantic)
"Philosophers have long conceded … that every man has two educations: that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves."
"The Mis-Education of the Negro," Carter G. Woodson
(Source: The Atlantic)
"Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say “going through the motions”—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.
This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
"The Empathy Exams," Leslie Jamison
"I’m a dirt person. I trust the dirt. I don’t trust diamonds and gold."
"As I told that disappointed student, don’t be misled. I have ambition. I don’t wield it overmuch. My ambition is just one portion of the kindling that keeps the woodstove going in my gut. Sure, I want to make it, but whatever that means, it doesn’t mean money. And mostly, I want to make and make and make a thing that burns you up. Yes, I suppose it is work. It’s work because it’s damn hard. Whether or not there’s a paycheck involved."
"Do What You Do, Love What You Love," Camille Rankine
"Almost. But not quite. When I left this country 18 years ago, I didn’t know how strangely departure would obliterate return: how could I have done? It’s one of time’s lessons, and can only be learned temporally. What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right."
"On Not Going Home," James Wood