“As soon as I said this I realised I’d made a mistake… It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never let me Go

Satre on how Camus’ view of the human condition is reinforced in the writing style of The Outsider.

“All the sentences of his book are equal to each other, just as all the absurd man’s experiences are equal. Each one sets up for itself and sweeps the others into the void.”

“The comparison with Hemingway seems… fruitful… Both men write in the same short sentences. Each sentence refuses to exploit the momentum accumulated by the preceding ones. Each is a new beginning.”

Jean-Paul Satre, Camus’ The Outsider, in Literary Essays

“We have to build the republic of heaven where we are, because for us there is no elsewhere.”

Philip Pullman’s optimistic atheism – and almost all secular political thinking – summed up pithily in The Amber Spyglass

David Hickey on Spectators and Participants

“This distinction is critical to the practice of art in a democracy, however, because spectators invariably align themselves with authority. They have neither the time nor the inclination to make decisions. They just love the winning side— the side with the chic building, the gaudy doctorates, and the star-studded cast. They seek out spectacles whose value is confirmed by the normative blessing of institutions and corporations. In these venues, they derive sanctioned pleasure or virtue from an accredited source, and this makes them feel secure, more a part of things. Participants, on the other hand, do not like this feeling. They lose interest at the moment of accreditation, always assuming there is something better out there, something brighter and more desirable, something more in tune with their own agendas.

“Thus, while spectators must be lured, participants just appear, looking for that new thing—the thing they always wanted to see—or the old thing that might be seen anew—and having seen it, they seek to invest that thing with new value. They do this simply by showing up; they do it with their body language and casual conversation, with their written commentary, if they are so inclined, and their disposable income, if it falls to hand. Because participants, unlike spectators, do not covertly hate the things they desire. Participants want their views to prevail, so they lobby for the embodiment of what they lack.”

Dave Hickey, Romancing the Lucky-Loos – in Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy

“That is what the church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if a war comes, and the church is on one side of it, we must be on the other, no matter what strange allies we find ourselves bound to.”

Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife

“And it was this feeling of fantastic homelessness amid an alien order of being, that was the source of anxieties I had never before experienced. I was no more than an irrelevant parcel of living tissue caught in a place I should not be, threatened with being caught in some great dredging net of doom… In the most far-reaching import of the phrase, my life was of no matter.”

Existential dread from Thomas Ligotti in The Sect of the Idiot

Reflections from the world’s last panda, from Simon Armitage


“Unprecedented economic growth in my native country has brought mochaccino and broadband to where there was nothing but misery and disease, yet with loss of habitat the inevitable consequence; even the glade I was born in is now a thirty-storey apartment block with valet parking and a nail salon.”


“The sixties did it for everyone, I mean EVERYONE, and what people fail to grasp about Chairman Mao was that despite the drab-looking suits and systematic violations of human rights he liked a good tune as the next person.”

Simon Armitage, The Last Panda, in Seeing Stars

“Returning to the ancient Greeks, [Nietzsche] argued that their remarkable strength was born of agon – the friction of contest – which was far from comfortable… The Greeks, according to Nietzsche, didn’t deny the existence of human suffering and limitation, but rather sought to transform them in art.”

John Kagg, Hiking with Nietzsche

“Rumi digressed for a moment. He told Dimple that childhood was a kind of affliction, certainly physical and possibly mental. Children were at a hopeless disadvantage; they were unsuited for the world. They were short and ungainly and stupid, half-people, dwarf bundles of ectoplasm and shit, stunted organisms incapable of finding food or keeping their asses clean. They needed constant attention and they couldn’t communicate their needs. All they could do was wait for it to pass.”

– Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis

“None of us can talk to our parents. By ‘us’ I mean my generation, people born after the Change…

“The life advice, the knowing-better, the back-in-our-day wisdom which, according to books and films, was a big part of the whole deal between parents and children, just doesn’t work. Want to put me straight about what I’m doing wrong in my life, Grandad? No thanks. Why don’t you travel back in time and unfuckup the world and then travel back and maybe then we can talk.

John Lanchester, The Wall

“Their friendship was not just one of convenience between two quiet, solitary men with few other options, it was a pact. A pact to resist the vortex of busyness and insensitivity that had engulfed the rest of the world. It was a pact of simplicity, which stood against the forces of competitiveness and noise.”

– Ronan Hession on Leonard and Hungry Paul, two of the most likeable, honest and refreshing characters I’ve read in fiction

The rise of the spectator democracy

Byung-Chul Han on how neoliberalism has turned citizens into consumers and political engagement into passive jeering from the sidelines…

“Neoliberalism makes its citizens into consumers. The freedom of the citizen yields to the passivity of the consumer. As consumers, today’s voters have no real interest in shaping politics – in actively shaping the community. They possess neither the will nor the ability to participate in communal, political action. They react only passively to politics: grumbling and complaining, as consumers do about a commodity or service they do not like. Politicians and parties follow this logic of consumption too. They have to ‘deliver’. In the process, they become nothing more than suppliers; their task is to satisfy voters who are consumers or customers.”

“The transparency demanded of politicians today is anything but a political demand. Transparency is not called for in political decision-making processes; no consumer is interested in that. Instead, and above all, the imperative of transparency serves to expose or unmask politicians, to make them an item of scandal. The call for transparency presupposes occupying the position of a shocked spectator. It is not voiced by engaged citizens so much as passive onlookers. Participation now amounts to grievance and complaint. With that, the society of transparency, inhabited by onlookers and consumers, has given rise to a spectator democracy.”

From Byung-Chul Han’s Psychopolitics

“Freedom… could only come from the Other of Work: a wholly other force that no longer serves production or admits transformation into any kind of workforce at all.. from something altogether unproductive. The course our future takes will depend on whether we prove able, beyond the world of production, to make use of the useless.

“True happiness comes from what runs riot, lets go, is exuberant and loses meaning – the excessive and superfluous. That is, it comes from what luxuriates, what has taken leave of all necessity, work, performance and purpose.”

– Byung-Chul Hang, Psychopolitics

“Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolished science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists.”

Alisdair Macintyre’s powerful opening to After Virtue. Published in 1981 , it’s an intriguing thought experiment that doesn’t seem quite so implausible today…

“He wondered briefly whether he had made the most terrible error, then she let out a long growl and her eyes turned black. Her skin smoked and crackled and split and peeled away like the skin of a rabbit being roasted over an open fire… She had been transformed into a hairy, snarling ape, spittle flying from her mouth. She sprang on to his chest, knocked him to the ground and fastened her sinewy hands around his neck.”

(Turns out it wasn’t his sister at all…)

– Mark Haddon, The Temptation of St. Anthony

“I was awake for three reasons. One: you live near a Tube stop and it was firing up for the first journey of the day. Two: there’s a bird in the tree outside your window and it was shouting at your house. I don’t know what kind of bird it was, nor the type of tree. Thirdly: you had trapped a bee in a glass last night and forgotten to let it out.”

Brilliant opening to Bs by Eley Williams – in Atrib. and other stories

“Across the vast sea of him, in amongst the ripples, human heads appeared, like swimmers treading water. Animal heads, too, and the heads of mutant children and Mord proxies. A dozen proxies at least. These shiny, dark heads with holes where their eyes should be. Staring.”

Jeff Vandermeer, Borne