When I is we

I is another.
— Arthur Rimbaud, Letter to Georges Izambard, 13 May 1871

For the second body, there is no stable boundary between one species and another: we’re all in the same boat.
— Daisy Hildyard, The Second Body

We are many all the way down, because we are wholes that are always less than the sum of their parts. We don’t just combine into multitudes, we contain multitudes, as any self-respecting stomach bacterium will tell you.
— Timothy Morton, Humankind

‘I’ live in a body that internally requires 10 trillion organisms, while externally my survival is ecological, emotional, and cultural. I am not an isolatable specimen.
— Nora Bateson, Small Arcs of Larger Circles

I am large, I contain multitudes.
— Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself’

Are we perhaps condemned to wholeness, and every fragmentation, every quartering, will only be a pretence, will happen on the surface, underneath which, however, the plan remains intact, unalterable? Does even the smallest fragment belong to the whole?
— Olga Tokarczuk, Flights

I was pretty much all hyphen.
— Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World

We are contaminated by our encounters; they change who we are as we make way for others.
— Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World

Instead of thinking of ourselves as single, unified selves who are trying to discover through self-reflection, we could think of ourselves as complex arrays of emotions, dispositions, desires, and traits that often pull us in different and contradictory ways. When we do so, we become malleable. We avoid the danger of defining ourselves as frozen in a moment in time.
— Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh, The Path

When we look at the global body, it is impossible to relate that body to anything individual because there can be no certain borders between one thing and another.
— Daisy Hildyard, The Second Body

An ecological border, like a cell membrane, resists indiscriminate mixture; it contains differences but is porous. The border is an active edge.
— Richard Sennett, The Craftsman

we are in fact relational beings in a world where everything affects everything else and, as a result, to care for others is to care for ourselves.
— Daniel Christian Wahl, Designing Regenerative Cultures

this relationship existing within each of us, between the person as individual and the personality as bearer of culture and race, is not immobile, rigid or static, not fixed inside him for good. On the contrary, its typical features are dynamism, mobility, variability and differences in intensity, depending on the external context, the demands of the current moment, the expectations of the environment or even one’s own mood and stage of life.
— Ryszard Kapuściński, The Other

The ability to live with differences, let alone to enjoy such living and to benefit from it, does not come easily and certainly not under its own impetus. This ability is an art which, like all arts, requires study and exercise. The inability to face up to the vexing plurality of human beings and the ambivalence of all classifying/filing deci­sions are, on the contrary, self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing: the more effective the drive to homogeneity and the efforts to eliminate the difference, the more difficult it is to feel at home in the face of strangers, the more threatening the difference appears and the deeper and more intense is the anxiety it breeds.
— Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity

Or is the true self neither this nor that, neither here nor there, but something so varied and wandering that it is only when we give the rein to our wishes and let it take its way unimpeded that we are indeed ourselves? Circumstances compel unity; for convenience’ sake a man must be a whole.
— Virginia Woolf, ‘Street Haunting’

The idea of self-realization is one of the most destructive of modern fictions. It suggests you can flourish in only one sort of life, or a small number of similar lives, when in fact everybody can thrive in a large variety of ways.
— John Gray, The Silence of Animals

Modernity is characterised by uncertainty, rapidity of change and kaleidoscopic juxtapositions of objects, people and events. Finding our uncertain way through these uncertainties is a prime task of contemporary existence, for individuals as well as for cultures as a whole.
— Stephen Frosh, Identity Crisis

Identities seem fixed and solid only when seen, in a flash, from outside. Whatever solidity they might have when contemplated from the inside of one’s own biographical experience appears fra­gile, vulnerable, and constantly torn apart by shearing forces which lay bare its fluidity and by cross-currents which threaten to rend in pieces and carry away any form they might have acquired.
— Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity

This contrast between a hermetically sealed contemporary self and a porous late medieval self intrinsically connected to nature, the ‘spirit world’, and its community is meant to serve only as a striking example of two entirely different relationships to the world, each of which gives expression to different types of self and world that are related to each other in different ways.
— Hartmut Rosa, Resonance

Her consciousness, at this point – she was forty-three years old – was so crammed full not just of her own memories, obligations, dreams, knowledge and the plethora of her day-to-day responsibilities, but also of other people’s – gleaned over years of listening, talking, empathising, worrying – that she was frightened most of all of the boundaries separating these numerous types of mental freight, the distinctions between them, crumbling away until she was no longer certain what had happened to her and what to other people she knew, or sometimes even what was or was not real.
— Rachel Cusk, Outline

Listen: you are not yourself, you are crowds of others, you are as leaky a vessel as was ever made, you have spent vast amounts of your life as someone else, as people who died long ago, as people who never lived, as strangers you never met. The usual I we are given has all the tidy containment of the kind of character the realist novel specializes in and none of the porousness of our every waking moment, the loose threads, the strange dreams, the forgettings and misrememberings, the portions of a life lived through others’ stories, the incoherence and inconsistency, the pantheon of dei ex machina and the companionability of ghosts. There are other ways of telling.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

I swallow books upon books upon books
to unlearn like-mindedness, to externalise cosmos
— Nisha Ramayya, States of the Body Produced by Love

Books, conversations, and perceptions enter us and become us.
— Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking

he sensed the connections being made around him, all the objects and shaped silhouettes and levels of knowledge – not knowledge exactly but insidious intent. But not that either – some deeper meaning that existed solely to keep him from knowing what it was.
— Don DeLillo, Underworld

The search for origins ends with the discovery of fragments
— John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette

These fragments I have shored against my ruins
— T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Hence it is with a certain feeling of urgency that I seek the nature, subject, words of the other story, the untold one, the life story.
— Ursula K. Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction

/See, the world is full of other yous/ the kid was telling John. /Is full of people who are just like you but somehow different. They may look different; they may sound different. They may have different favourites; they may have different mammies, or memories, or names. But something in them will be the same as in you. Something in them will reflect in you as with a mirror./
— Danny Denton, The Earlie King & The Kid in Yellow

The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.
— Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

That’s the only part of himself he wants to protect, the part that exists inside her.
— Sally Rooney, Normal People

I am not who I am.
I must be who I become.
— Ursula Andkjær Olsen , Third-Millennium Heart

Book conversations

All books are made from other books and so, in their way, all books are translations in one way or another.
— Kate Briggs, This Little Art

We are bricoleurs cobbling together and recombining found texts, without the possibility of immediate spontaneity.
— Jonathan Basile, Tar for Mortar

Since I first started reading, I know that I think in quotations and that I write with what others have written, and that I can have no other ambition than to reshuffle and rearrange.
— Alberto Manguel, Curiosity

For a writer everything is research, everything is material.
— Paul Maunder, The Wind at My Back

Before you become a writer you must first become a reader. Every hour spent reading is an hour spent learning to write; this continues to be true throughout a writer’s life.
— Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves.
— Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.
— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation, and new people, new readers, need to be brought into the conversation too.
— Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats

The questions manuscripts can answer face-to-face are sometimes unexpected, both about themselves and about the times in which they were made.
— Christopher de Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

we tell the same fairytales, because the stories have migrated across borders as freely as birds.
— Katherine Rundell, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise

History is made up of the stories we tell ourselves and each other. But whose stories are we talking about? What kind of stories create our history?
— Chin Li, ‘The Otherness of the World’

It matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what concepts we think to think other concepts with. It matters wherehow ouroboros swallows its tale, again.
— Donna Haraway, ‘Receiving Three Mochilas in Colombia’

Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.
— Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

In the modern world, simple copying is a pejorative concept, especially when applied to literature and art. Writers and artists now strive instead for originality. Plagiarism is anathema. In medieval Europe, however, copying was admired. Artists were trained to imitate each other’s work. Inherited patterns and formulas were dutifully repeated without reference to reality.
— Christopher de Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

Hip hop is an appropriation engine, an infinite assemblage machine. It sucks up whatever is placed in its path and reconfigures it – re-references it – making it part of its own circuits, its own organism.
— Will Ashon, Chamber Music

No image stands alone; each is related in straightforward or convoluted ways to other pictures.
— Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things

For books have a way of influencing each other. Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy.
— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labors of others.
— Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story Is This?

Isn’t writing, and what I write, also a way of giving?
— Annie Ernaux, I Remain in Darkness

During the solitary months and years spent writing a book, it can be easy to forget that it will – if you are lucky – live a social life: that your book might enter the imaginations and memories of its readers and thrive there, that your book might be crammed into pockets or backpacks and carried up mountains or to foreign countries, or that your book might be given by one person to another.
— Robert Macfarlane, The Gifts of Reading

This connectedness to things is what we mean by meaning. The meaning of one thing is its connection with another; the meaning of our lives is their connection with something other than ourselves.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

In the realm of cultural space as the twentieth century has conceived it, there are fields (language, culture, memory, texts) and paths (utterances, discourses, images, themes); and there are labyrinths or networks fusing and confusing the two (worlds, lives, books), embracing past, present and future, the collective ‘we’ and ‘they’ and the individual ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘s/he’.
— Gerald Martin, Journeys Through the Labyrinth

Things and people moved around me, taking positions in obscure hierarchies participating in systems I didn’t know about and never would. A complex network of objects and concepts. You live through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.
— Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends

Life, after all, was mostly the art of salvage.
— Danielle McLaughlin, ‘Not Oleanders’

She wrote fiction, sure, but she populated it with the already extant, the pre-packaged and ready-made. She was in many ways Warhol’s daughter, niece at least, a grave-robber, a bandit, happy to snatch what she needed but also morally invested in the cause: that there was no need to invent, you could make anything from out of the overflowing midden of the already-done, the as Beckett put it nothing new, it was economic also stylish to help yourself to the grab bag of the actual.
— Olivia Laing, Crudo

A life’s work is not a series of stepping-stones, onto which we calmly place our feet, but more like an ocean crossing where there is no path, only a heading, a direction, in conversation with the elements. Looking back, we see the wake we have left as only a brief glimmering trace on the waters.
— David Whyte, Consolations

Writing to understand

I stood there speechless for a long while, then I entered it. Such is art.
— John Berger, Confabulations

Phrases came. Visions came. Beautiful phrases. But what she wished to get hold of was that very jar on the nerves, the thing itself before it has been made anything.
— Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

how do you find the unexpected if you already know what you want?
— David Byrne, How Music Works

All too often I write to find out what I think about a subject, not because I already know.
— Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats

Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them.
— Don DeLillo interviewed by Adam Begley in The Paris Review

I am writing not only to tell. I am writing to discover.
— Siri Hustvedt, Memories of the Future

The many processes are really stages of an overall process one navigates in knowing, making, or discovering something that does not yet exist.
— Kyna Leski, The Storm of Creativity

but I think I wanted to get lost to see what happened next.
— Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know

As a writer, I feel it’s important to set out without an entirely prescriptive sense of where you are going. Getting lost is an essential part of the process.
— Cressida Cowell, ‘First Steps: Our Neverlands’

But along the way, we are reminded that the process is as valuable as the product, the method as potentially revelatory as the motive.
— Jessica Helfand, Design: The Invention of Desire

The process of discovery involved in creating something new appears to be one of the most enjoyable activities any human can be involved in.
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity

Some of the oldest stories we know, including creation myths, were attempts to make sense of the world.
— Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imaginations

Arriving at the blank page represents our coming to the end of the undecided space we call living. Now we must get down to telling.
— Amit Chaudhuri, ‘The Moment of Writing’

Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art.
— George Saunders, ‘What Writers Really Do When They Write’

The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.
— Don Barthelme, Not-Knowing

I’ve only ever written to decant, to provide myself an elsewhere.
— Colette O’Connor, ‘Analogue’

I have always thought that making art, whether it’s visual art, music, or fiction, is a form of conscious dreaming, that art draws from the boundlessness, brokenness, merging identities, disjunctions of space and time, and intense emotions of our unconscious lives.
— Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking

Art is philosophy. Art is putting our true nature on display before ourselves. Because we need to. Art is writing ourselves.
— Alva Noë, Strange Tools

We make up stories in order to give a shape to our questions; we read or listen to stories in order to understand what it is that we want to know.
— Alberto Manguel, Curiosity

I am afraid of writing, too, because when I write I am always moving toward the unarticulated, the dangerous, the place where the walls don’t hold. I don’t know what’s there, but I’m pulled toward it.
— Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros

He thinks how, in all these endless pages, all these stories and poems and essays and letters, he tries to give imaginary meaning to parts of his life he doesn’t understand.
— James Sallis, Gently into the Land of the Meateaters

Bridging poles

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to discuss neo-generalism in the company of Lucy Moore, Al Smith, Cath Bishop and Ella Saltmarshe at the UK Sport PLx conference in Manchester. This latest addition to the bricolage series pulls together some ideas regarding continuums and pluralism touched upon in passing during our conversation.

Whenever there’s an ending, look for the beginning.
— Amy Arnold, Slip of a Fish

Factfulness is … recognizing when a story talks about a gap, and remembering that this paints a picture of two separate groups, with a gap in between. The reality is often not polarized at all. Usually the majority is right there in the middle, where the gap is supposed to be.
— Hans Rosling, Factfulness

Polarities to manage are sets of opposites which can’t function well independently. Because the two sides of a polarity are interdependent, you cannot choose one as a ‘solution’ and neglect the other.
— Barry Johnson, Polarity Management

Nothing exists without duality, simultaneous as a shadow
— Anne Michaels, Infinite Gradation

I am a Saturn who dreams of being a Mercury, and everything I write reflects these two impulses.
— Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

My fox/hedgehog model is not a dichotomy. It is a spectrum.
— Philip Tetlock & Dan Gardner, Superforecasting

For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel – a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance – and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle.
— Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox

Swans by M. C. Escher

Swans by M. C. Escher

It is not either-or, it is both-and, and that is a central part of metamodernity.
— Lene Rachel Andersen, Metamodernity

There wasn’t a single meaning. There were many meanings. It was a riddle expanding out and out and out.
— Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

This is not a matter of arguing so much as of perceiving. It’s a matter of vision. And when it comes to vision, we need to be able to see contrary things and believe them both true: ‘Without Contraries is no progression’ (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell), despite the scorn of rationalists whose single vision rejects anything that is not logically coherent.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

The range of human knowledge today is so great that we’re all specialists and the distance between specialisations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them almost has to forego closeness with the other people around him.
— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Losing perspective is an intellectual virtue because it requires mourning, confusion, reorientation, and new thoughts. Without it, knowledge slogs along in its various narrow grooves, but there will be no leaps, because the thinner my perspective, the more likely it is for me to accept the preordained codes of a discipline as inviolable truths. A willingness to lose perspective means an openness to others who are guided by a set of unfamiliar propositions.
— Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking

Change happens at the boundaries of things: the boundary between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the different, between the old way and the new way, the past and the future.
— Dave Gray, Liminal Thinking

The liminal area of one thing, by definition, has to meet the edge of something else even if that’s thin air. Limbo suspends bodies and minds in-between.
— Dan Fox, Limbo

At the edges of the given patterns, there are liminal zones. The boundaries. This is where interaction takes place. These are the places where the directions of potential pathways as yet uncharted live.
— Nora Bateson, Small Arcs of Larger Circles

In short, trickster is a boundary-crosser. Every group has its edge, its sense of in and out, and trickster is always there, at the gates of the city and the gates of life, making sure there is commerce. He also attends the internal boundaries by which groups articulate their social life. We constantly distinguish – right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead – and in every case trickster will cross the line and confuse the distinction. Trickster is the creative idiot, therefore, the wise fool, the grey-haired baby, the cross-dresser, the speaker of sacred profanities. Where someone’s sense of honorable behavior has left him unable to act, trickster will appear to suggest an amoral action, something right/wrong that will get life going again. Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox.
— Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

He’s not just one thing or another. Nobody is. Not even you.
— Ali Smith, Autumn

A cross-disciplinary curiosity is vital for originality in any field of creative endeavor. But solving the major unsolved problems in any one discipline requires deep expertise in it, even if the final insight is aided by a wide lens on surrounding fields.
— Maria Popova, Figuring

Questions are invitations to conversations in business boardrooms, community groups and in institutions of governance. Questions are ways to build bridges between these different sectors and between different disciplines that compartmentalize our knowledge. Questions – and the conversations they spark – can unleash collective intelligence and help us value multiple perspectives.
— Daniel Christian Wahl, Designing Regenerative Cultures

Everyone automatically categorizes and generalizes all the time. Unconsciously. It is not a question of being prejudiced or enlightened. Categories are absolutely necessary for us to function. They give structure to our thoughts.
— Hans Rosling, Factfulness

A gift for embracing paradox is not the least of the equipment an activist should have.
— Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

You gotta think about it the same way as if you want to see it. You got to look at it sideways. Out the corner of your eye. So you gotta think about it out the corner of your mind. It’s there and it en’t, both at the same time.
— Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth

I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason
— John Keats, Letter to George & Tom Keats, 22 December 1818

the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘The Crack-Up’

we were born with an opposable mind we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension.
— Roger Martin, The Opposable Mind

this straining and stretching to a higher level which is the specific challenge of a divergent problem, a problem in which irreconcilable opposites have to be reconciled.
— E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful

It’s the place where reality strikes the ideal, where a joke becomes serious and anything serious is a joke. The magic point where every idea and its opposite are equally true.
— Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

When others interact with us we often have to adjust our view of reality.
— David Didau, What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong?

Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.
— Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

When we push beyond a boundary, we often discover that what lies beyond is not so strange. We are still ourselves. But what we learn is that to bridge differences is better than to place barriers in front of them. Perhaps there is no waste ground, only ground with which we are not familiar.
— M. W. Bewick & Ella Johnston, The Orphaned Spaces

Sketch of the neo-generalist continuum

Sketch of the neo-generalist continuum

Answers or Questions.
The sum or its parts.
Inside or Outside.
Light or Dark.
Sun or Shade.
Empty or Full.

And yet most things that seem like binaries don’t really hold, once you being to think about them in any great detail.

In the sense that every doorway is both an entrance and an exit. Open – close – arrive – depart. And so the threshold, the indeterminate place – hover, pause – is the most interesting space.
— Emily LaBarge, ‘Adaptation’

Memory’s poetry

In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it.
— Michael Chabon, Moonglow

None of that’s very close to the truth, I suspect; part of it’s what my youthful mind made (and wanted to make) of the scaffolding of facts, the rest of it what memory (forever more poet than reporter) has pushed into place.
— James Sallis, The Long-Legged Fly

Memory and imagination cannot be separated. Remembering is always a form of imagining.
— Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking

Writing creates an artificial memory, whereby humans can enlarge their experience beyond the limits of one generation or one way of life.
— John Gray, Straw Dogs

Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.
— Joan Didion, Blue Nights

Memory showers desire, desire infects memory.
— Olivia Laing, Crudo

Still from Rashōmon, directed by Akira Kurosawa

Still from Rashōmon, directed by Akira Kurosawa

Memory is cumulative selection.
— Anne Michaels, ‘Miner’s Pond’

Memory would select, arrange, retouch, lie.
— Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

We are all wishful creatures, and we wish backward, too, not only forward, and thereby rebuild the curious, crumbling architecture of memory into structures that are more habitable.
— Siri Hustvedt, Memories of the Future

In memory, time collapses. Time-that-was and time-that-will-be become simply then.
— James Sallis, Sarah Jane

This is, of course, exactly how both events and memory of them proceed: associatively, digressing, sliding, jolting, looping.
— Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish

With nothing but a single memory one can endure a long and tedious existence: repeating day after day, like oxen yoked to the miller’s wheel, the pedestrian gestures of everyday life.
— María Luisa Bombal, ‘The Final Mist’

Still from Wild Strawberries, directed by Ingmar Bergman

Still from Wild Strawberries, directed by Ingmar Bergman

unsettling to wonder how much of it was merely imagined or improvised; melancholy to realize how much of anyone’s memory is no true memory at all but only the traces of someone else’s memory, stories handed down on the family network.
— Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

But memory is cunning, it completes its sleepless marvellous task in secret, breaking the substance of lived experience into fertile soil for fiction
— Antonio Muñoz Molina, Like a Fading Shadow

Memory is repetition. Sure. But it is repetition with a difference. It is not recitation. It is repetition that creates a felt variation in the ways things appear. Repetition is what makes novelty.
— Simon Critchey, Memory Theatre

Writing fiction is like remembering what never happened. It mimics memory without being memory.
— Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros

half of memory is imagination anyway.
— Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds

Memory, as it happens, is a fairly unreliable search engine. It’s fuzzy and utopian, honoring an imagined past over a real one.
— Jessica Helfand, Design: The Invention of Desire

Still from Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan

Still from Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan

man is separated from the past (even from the past only a few seconds old) by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms).
— Milan Kundera, The Curtain

Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history.
— Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book – that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.
— Paul Beatty, The Sellout

Memory is a tough place. You were there. If this is not the truth, it is also not a lie.
— Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory.
— Jean Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I note that I’ve lived longer in the past, now, than I can expect to live in the future. I have more to remember than I have to look forward to. Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot more of it.
— Denis Johnson, ‘The Largesse of the Sea Maiden’

Still from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry

Still from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry

Time capture

Where shall I start? How do we begin a conversation? We would have to move around in time, the past the present and the future, but we are lost in all of them.
— Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

People need foundation myths, some imprint of year zero, a bolt that secures the scaffolding that in turn holds fast the entire architecture of reality, of time: memory-chambers and oblivion-cellars, walls between eras, hallways that sweep us on towards the end-days and the coming whatever-it-is.
— Tom McCarthy, Satin Island

For him everything happened in the present. Hopi Mean Time, a friend once called it.
— James Sallis, Eye of the Cricket

The minute the ‘now’ is apprehended, it has already passed.
— Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock

Now, in this moment, I feel that vertiginous thrill course through me. As I step recklessly into time I have not yet lived, into this book I have not yet written.
— Han Kang, The White Book

And if I can’t go back, can I flatten time so it does not slide into memory, so I can see it all in the same instant, laid out like a map?
— Joanna Walsh, Break.up

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
— T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The rules of time travel have been written not by scientists but by storytellers.
— James Gleick, Time Travel

Time became fluid, a fast flow of recollections seeping into one another, the past and present inseparable.
— Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.
— Jorge Luis Borges, ‘A New Refutation of Time’

So emotion, fear, age, isolation, body temperature and rejection can all affect our perception of the speed of time, as does concentration, or ‘attention’
— Claudia Hammond, Time Warped

I’ve come to believe that all the arts are about time, but that the novel in particular is about the and-so-on of things, continuance and continuity, the continuum.
— Ali Smith, ‘The Novel in the Age of Trump’

However, a dance, a poem, a piece of music (any of the time arts) occupies a length of time, and the manner in which this length of time is divided first into large parts and then into phrases (or built up from phrases to form eventual larger parts) is the work’s very life structure.
— John Cage, Silence

Narration – storytelling – is the relation of events unfolding through time.
— Margaret Atwood, On Writers and Writing

Collage is an institute of education where all the rules can be thrown into the air, and size and space and time and foreground and background all become relative, and because of these skills everything you think you know gets made into something new and strange.
— Ali Smith, Autumn

It's a Man's World by Pauline Boty

It’s a Man’s World by Pauline Boty

Move on. Out. Into. Back. Forward. Why can’t you just be a memory with the rest. Bottled. Hooded. Closed sequence.
— Ann Quin, ‘Ghostworm’

We’re well past the end of the century when time, for the first time, curved, bent, slipped, flashforwarded and flashbacked yet still kept on rolling along. We know it all now, with our thoughts travelling at the speed of tweet, our 140 characters in search of a paragraph. We’re post-history. We’re post-mystery.
— Ali Smith, Artful

The past is no insubstantial, thready thing, sunlight slanting through shutters into cool rooms, pools and standards of mist adrift at roadside, memories that flutter from our hands the instant we open them. Rather is it all too substantial, bluntly physical, like a boulder or cement block growing ever denser, ever larger, there behind us, displacing and pushing us forward.
— James Sallis, Eye of the Cricket

who had stopped time by making pictures of the movings of the world.
— Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

Nowadays we voyage through time so easily and so well, in our dreams and in our art.
— James Gleick, Time Travel

Stories have always manifested a twofold nature, deriving their impact and pleasure in part from the difference between the chronology of the story to be told and the ordering and presentation of that chronology.
— Michael Chabon, Maps and Legends

The only things which the mind cannot examine are memories of the future.
— Han Kang, The White Book

& time to them is not deep, not deep at all, for time is only ever overlapping tumbling versions of the now.
— Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood, Ness

You can’t, it seems, take the slightest interest in the activity of writing, unless you possess some feeling of futurity. The act of describing would involve some notion of the passage of time. Narrating would imply at least a hint of ‘and then’ and ‘after that’.
— Denise Riley, Time Lived, Without Its Flow

Maybe this will be the way it goes, from now. Every few months fresh knowledge of the past, of how good it was compared to the present.
— Megan Hunter, The End We Start From

As always we go on living our lives forward, attempting to understand them backwards.
— James Sallis, Eye of the Cricket

Yes, I think that’s true: the future is always unwritten. But history and stories are written, and they are written from the balcony of the present, looking out on the electrical storm of the past; that is to say, there is nothing more unstable than the past. The past, in its indeterminacy, presents itself either through the filter of nostalgia or through the filter of preliminary impressions.
— Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia

without time there is no life.
— Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

Touching North by Andy Goldsworthy

Touching North by Andy Goldsworthy


A candle is enough to light the world.
— Wallace Stevens, ‘The Man with the Blue Guitar’

One brand takes fire from another, until it is consumed,
a flame’s kindled by flame;
one man becomes clever by talking with another,
but foolish through being reserved.
— The Poetic Edda, translated by Carolyne Larrington

If thou hast knowledge, let others light their candle at thine.
— Thomas Fuller, Introductio Ad Prudentiam, Part II, Moral no. 1784

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Isaac McPherson, 13 August 1813

Everyone, after all, goes the same dark road – and the road has a trick of being most dark, most treacherous, when it seems most bright – and it’s true that nobody stays in the garden of Eden.
— James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.
— Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of nature’s works to me expunged and razed,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
So much the rather thou celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
— John Milton, Paradise Lost

The quality that we call beauty, however, must grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.
— Junichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

How simultaneously freeing and paralyzing to untether the moorings of the previously unquestioned Known.
— Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity

what is unknown is always more attractive than what is known; hope and imagination are the only consolations for the disappointments and sorrows of experience.
— Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Admitting that we don’t know allows us to learn. The darkness of Not Knowing creates freedom and space for new sources of illumination.
— Steven D’Souza & Diana Renner, Not Knowing

the realisation of my childlike illusion that in studying a work of art I would be following a detective trail that might lead to some ultimate illumination.
— Michael Jacobs, Everything is Happening

In self-consciousness lies the root of our ability to reflect on ourselves, on the shortness of our lives, on the profound mystery and the absolute beauty of the physical universe. And the Fall didn’t take place just once, six thousand years ago, or thirty or forty or fifty thousand years ago when the first human beings thought about death and life and who they were, and made patterns and marks and images to register this thinking – the Fall happens in every human life, at adolescence. We leave the unselfconscious grace of childhood behind and take our first faltering steps through the complexity and mire of life towards whatever we can reach of wisdom, which it is our job to increase and pass on. If there was no purpose in evolution, there is a purpose in our individual lives, and that is it.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

This new source of illumination, what Francis Bacon called ‘the torch of analysis’, inspired a quest for reason – to discover answers to ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ and dispel fear of the unknown. Its penetrating light pierced depths previously beyond our grasp, as nature was itself cleaved into separate elements and its underlying mechanism laid bare.
— Nick Sousanis, Unflattening

Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place.
— Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Because I can no longer raise
the questions,
because I cannot support
truth or its widower’s eyes,
now I will be flame,
the young man says.
— James Sallis, ‘Memory’s Empire’

why should we want to know everything? Imagine how sad it would be if, one day, we arrived at the end of knowledge. With no more questions to ask, our creativity would be stifled, our fire within extinguished.
— Marcelo Gleiser, The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected

A candle only burns once, and always downwards.
— Benjamin Meyers, The Gallows Pole

All nature is a fire: everything forms, everything blossoms, everything fades. We are slow clouds…
— Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

To look into those dark spaces was to have a direct glimpse of the future.
— Teju Cole, Open City

The knowledge flickered with promise like a mirage, but it still trembled just out of her reach.
— Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth