Chaos in the world and in art is in truth Criticism's opportunity to shine. For chaos has causes; confusion has clues; history is not an impenetrable riddle. . . .
— Introduction to The Energies of Art, "The Critic's Task Today," pages 3-4, 1956.
We think that we can deal with matters that involve our life and liberty by acting as partisans, whereas the very thing we want can only be achieved by acting as artisans. . . . [A] single example now will
make my meaning clear. People who appreciate the importance of education in a democracy often ask me whether I am for or against John Dewey and Progressive Education. The form of the question is political; it is a bid for a party vote, to which I return the cultural answer: I work for individualized teaching, for the breakdown of artificial divisions between school subjects, but against amateur psychiatry in the classroom and against the failure to teach the three R’s. My interlocutor sometimes insists: But are you for it as a whole, Yes or No? Don’t sit on the fence! As well ask, am I for the Atlantic Ocean? I swim in it with pleasure, but deplore tidal waves and fail to see a fence in the distinction.
— Of Human Freedom (Revised ed. 1964), p. 5
Take my advice – don’t even think of approaching 100. It’s too full of pitfalls and disheartening realizations. Where one should draw the line, I can’t say. There ought to be a government bureau to give advice on the basis of actuarial tables.
— Private communication
The age that declared men were all born equal and that said kings were lucky warriors and priests confidence men logically found the worthy man in the bourgeois.
— From Dawn to Decadence, p. 381
There are moments in history, as Burke late in life observed of the French Revolution, when the tide sets so universally in one direction that the spectacle is like the hand of Providence at work. A man – or even mind itself – would be time’s fool to say anything but that the outcome bears the seal of necessity. And just as intellect should refrain from passing judgment, so should the moral sense and the intimate emotions. There is nothing to reprove and nothing to bewail. One might prefer to have been born in an age when creation was abundant and its enthusiasm contagious. It is a flattering self-indulgence to wish so. But one should always doubt whether at the time one would have found that creation genuine and that enthusiasm healthy. One might, with many others, have regarded the new work as the end of all agreeableness and reason; and what is even harder to concede and yet is true, one may have been right as far as the available evidence went.
— Classic, Romantic, and Modern, p. 150
New ideas do not battle so much with ignorance as with solid knowledge.
— From Dawn to Decadence, p. 196
The rising bourgeoisie resembles a perpetual soufflé.
— From Dawn to Decadence, p. 243
Donald R. Vroon
What is remarkable about western music is that by its chosen scales, modified through equal temperament, and by developing complex forms and instruments, it has raised the expressive power of music to heights and depths unattained in other cultures.
— From Dawn to Decadence, p. 639
. . . individuality is not illusory . . . the ultimate arbiter of truth is experience.
— "Quentin Anderson Redux", in Donadio, Railton, and Seavy, Emerson and His Legacy: Essays in Honor of Quentin Anderson (Carbondale, Southern Illinois UP, 1986)
The heart has its reasons that the Reason does not know.
— Pascal, Pensées
You can give humanistic value to almost anything by teaching it historically. Geology, economics, mechanics, are humanities when taught with reference to the successive achievements of the geniuses to which these sciences owe their being. Not taught thus, literature remains grammar, art a catalogue, history a list of dates, and natural science a sheet of formulas and weights and measures. The sifting of human creations! — nothing less than this is what we ought to mean by the humanities.
— William James, "The Social Value of the College-Bred"
Our task, in lieu of all wishing, is to free ourselves as much as possible from foolish joys and fears and to apply ourselves above all to the understanding of historical development.
— Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians
To my taste, the most natural and fruitful exercise of the mind is conversation. Engaging in it I find sweeter than any other activity in life, which is why if I were forced to choose, I think I would rather agree to lose my eyesight than my hearing or power of speech.
— Montaigne, Essays, III, 8, "On the Art of Conversation"
To make life seem agreeable, disagreeables first.
— L. O. McDuff