Origins

Interviewer: Did you know as a child you wanted to be a writer?

Toni Morrison: No, I wanted to be a reader.

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Contributor Notes

“Writers are, in the first place, readers. I tell every writer I’ve ever known, either they are deep readers or they cannot become real writers. Read only the best and most challenging and traditional. And reread it.” –Harold Bloom

“Everybody should advertise while they are alive.” –Elbert Hubbard

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.Con

“We are developing new types of destitutes—the automobileless, the yachtless, the Newportcottageless. The subtlest luxuries become necessities, and their loss is bitterly resented. The discontent of today reaches very high in the social scale….The end of it is vexation of spirit.”

                                                                                             –Walter Weyl

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Agonist

“It would only be necessary for a writer to secure universal popularity if imagination and intelligence were equally distributed among all men.”

                                                                                      –W. H. Auden

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Ready, Set

“On the opposite side of the discussion, the phrase ‘right to life’ is an excellent example of a ‘buzzword,’ designed to inflame rather than illuminate. There is no right to life in any society on Earth today, nor has there been at any former time (with a few rare exceptions, such as among the Jains of India). We raise farm animals for slaughter; destroy forests; pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; hunt deer and elk for sport, leopards for their pelts, and whales for dog food; entwine dolphins, gasping and writhing, in great tuna nets; and club seal pups to death for ‘population management.’ All these beasts and vegetables are as alive as we. What is protected in many human societies is not life, but human life. And even with this protection, we wage ‘modern’ wars on civilian populations with a toll so terrible we are, most of us, afraid to consider it very deeply. Often such mass murders are justified by racial or nationalistic redefinitions of our opponents as less than human.”

“Once intelligent beings achieve technology and the capacity for self-destruction of their species, the selective advantage of intelligence becomes more uncertain.”

                                                                                           –Carl Sagan

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Goodnight, Syria

“They must see Americans as strange liberators.”

                                 –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Easement

“We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”

                                                                                            –Rod Serling

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“I read hungrily and delightedly, and have realized since that you can’t write unless you read.”

                                                                              –William Trevor

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The Listeners

“Yet it is only a symbol, a token of that vast maelstrom which has caught up states and stone-age peoples equally with the modern world. It is the technological revolution, and it has brought three things to man which it has been impossible for him to do to himself previously.

First, it has brought a social environment altering so rapidly with technological change that personal adjustments to it are frequently not viable. The individual either becomes anxious and confused or, what is worse, develops a superficial philosophy intended to carry him over the surface of life with the least possible expenditure of himself. Never before in history has it been literally possible to have been born in one age and to die in another. Many of us are now living in an age quite different from the one into which we were born. The experience is not confined to a ride in a buggy, followed in later years by a ride in a Cadillac. Of far greater significance are the social patterns and ethical adjustments which have followed fast upon the alterations in living habits introduced by machines.

Second, much of man’s attention is directed exteriorly upon the machines which now occupy most of his waking hours. He has less time alone than any man before him. In dictator-controlled countries he is harangued and stirred by propaganda projected upon him by machines to which he is forced to listen. In America he sits quiescent before the flickering screen in the living room while horsemen gallop across an American wilderness long vanished in the past. In the presence of so compelling an instrument, there is little opportunity in the evenings to explore his own thoughts or to participate in family living in the way that the man from the early part of the century remembers. For too many men, the exterior world with its mass-produced daydreams has become the conqueror. Where are the eager listeners who used to throng the lecture halls; where are the workingmen’s intellectual clubs? This world has vanished into the whirlpool.

Third, this outward projection of attention, along with the rise of a science whose powers and creations seem awe-inspiringly remote, as if above both man and nature, has come dangerously close to bringing into existence a type of man who is not human. He no longer thinks in the old terms; he has ceased to have a conscience. He is an instrument of power. Because his mind is directed outward upon this power torn from nature, he does not realize that the moment such power is brought into the human domain it partakes of human freedom. It is no longer safely within nature; it has become violent, sharing in human ambivalence and moral uncertainty.”

                                                                                 –Loren Eiseley

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“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

                       –Aesop