Friday, July 24, 2009



Excerpts from Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).

I (p. 6):
I don't know what to do. No, I know what to do. I will open a book.
II (p. 39):
I see again that the kaddish is my good fortune. It looks after the externalities, and so saves me from the task of improvising the rituals of my bereavement, which is a lot to ask.
III (p. 59):
A person who has buried a child has a right to raise a fist to the heavens. Anger is not apostasy. Quite the contrary. It is another way of acknowledging God's responsibility for the world.
III (p. 62):
The claim of tradition is that it is a light that does not dim as it travels from its source. This is outrageous.
III (p. 75):
I study the old texts because I hope to be infected by their dimensions, to attain the size of what I read.
III (p. 84):
Back and forth from my desk to my shelves, ten, twenty, thirty times a day. The sources swirl around me. I am drugged by books. The sweet savor rises from the pages. A delirium of study.
III (p. 91):
The opposite of traditionalism is sensationalism, or living merely now.
IV (p. 119):
Self-sufficiency is not only a state of independence. It is also a state of constriction. Only a small soul does not need others. To subsist within oneself is a paltry and prideful subsistence.
IV (p. 123):
When Nietzsche lost his faith, he concluded that God is dead. This is not critical thinking. This is narcissism. I understand the idea that if God exists, then you must believe in him. I do not understand the idea that if you do not believe in him, then God must not exist.
IV (p. 123):
The fact that I spend my entire life in darkness does not prove that there is no light. My experience is not the only philosophical datum that counts.
V (p. 133):
What is the difference, for me, between studying and wallowing, between avidity and morbidity? Sometimes, it is hard to tell. Obsession has many uses. Its intensity sometimes disguises the fact that it is a method of insulation.
V (p. 136):
There are differences between individuals and societies that may be explained by the fact that some fictions are more ennobling than others.
V (p. 138):
On my desk, my books are like my peonies. I am pleased by the sight of them closed and clenched with promise, and then I am pleased by the sight of them opening, until they reveal the fullness that I expect of them.
V (p. 143):
I detest the condescension of the materialist. It is he who has the easy task. Intellectually speaking, the materialist is a man of leisure.
VI (p. 178):
I am disgusted by this bowdlerization of the text. It is cowardly. It is decadence.
VI (p. 210):
Whenever I read Kafka, I wonder: what sort of dejection is this, that leaves one the strength to write, and write, and write? If you can write about the wreckage, the wreckage is not complete. You are intact.
VII (p. 234):
I don't know a more incomprehensible remark about religion than Haydn's remark that the thought of God made him cheerful.
VII (p.236):
Consolations are more frequently false than true. The universe does not owe me edification.
VIII (p. 267):
Science grants absolution more easily than religion.
VIII (p. 268):
Pity the man who can explain everything. The materialist laughs at the difficulties with which the others are beset, but it is his own lack of difficulties that is comic.
VIII (pp. 275-276):
"You are lucky," someone said to me a few months ago, in a mildly envious tone. "You have an anchor." But an anchor is also a weight; and when it doesn't fix you, it pulls you down; and its destination is always the very bottom.
VIII (p. 290):
Give me no gold. Give me no silver. Give me paper. (A prayer.)
VIII (p. 295):
Tradition is not reproduced. It is thrown and it is caught. It lives a long time in the air.
IX (p. 307):
Words as spices, words as perfumes.
IX (p. 323):
As long as there are shuls and churches and mosques, the feeling for philosophy will not be lost. The same cannot be said about universities.
IX (p. 350):
I have always hated happy funerals: we are here to celebrate a life, and so on. No, we are not here to celebrate anything. We are here to bury an imperfect man or an imperfect woman, to regard his or her frailty and therefore to be frail.
IX (p. 355):
My library looked like a graveyard tonight, and every book looked like a grave. But one must open these graves and enter them. Inside these graves, there is life.
X (pp. 377-378):
As the rabbis taught, "it is better that a man throw himself into a fiery furnace than humiliate another man publicly."
X (p. 384):
But it occurs to me that there is something more troubling than the inefficacy of prayer, and it is the efficacy of prayer. Who, really, would want the responsibility? What should be regretted is not our lack of cosmic influence. What should be regretted is our interest in cosmic influence.
XII (p. 472):
In a gathering without grief, human experience is inadequately represented.
XII (p. 475):
The modern reader of medieval texts must beware.
XIV (p. 506):
Custom is lovable in a way that law is not. Custom is so unpristine. It has fingerprints all over it. It asserts the reality of practices against the ideality of principles.
XIV (p. 537):
I cannot imagine anything more revolutionary than to slow things down.
XV (p. 550):
Sometimes "how are you" is a sadistic thing to say.
XVI (p. 576):
What is happening to me now is nothing what like Americans call "closure." What a ludicrous notion of emotional efficiency! Americans really believe that the past is past. They do not care to know that the past soaks the present like the light of a distant star. Things that are over do not end. They come inside us, and seek sanctuary in subjectivity. And there they live on, in the consciousness of individuals and communities.

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