String together all the pages that you have copied out over the course of your readings and, without there being a single line by you, the ensemble may turn out to be the most accurate portrait of your mind and your heart. Such mosaics of quotations resemble pictorial “collages”: all the elements are borrowed, but together they form original pictures.

– Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (2011)


When artificial intelligence was perfected, the most respected manufactured brain was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It had chosen its own name, which was ‘M.I.T.’ Computers had designed it, and then computers controlled the machines that made its parts, and it now took care of its own upgrading and maintenance. It had all knowledge in its memory, and it was telling all sorts of other machines what to do or say next. One day, ‘Cal Tech,’ the artificial intelligence at the California Institute of Technology, asked M.I.T. what it thought of people. M.I.T. needed only one word for an answer. The word was ‘Obsolete.’

Next question? ‘What were people for?’ And M.I.T. replied: ‘Paranoia, schizophrenia, depression, greed, ignorance, and stand-up comedy.’

– Kurt Vonnegut, We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works (2012)


Common in our own generation, particularly in America […], is a stance that can only be called religious fellow-travelling. This is a piety without content, a religiosity without either faith or observance. […] It proceeds from a sense of the weakness of religion: knowing the good old cause is down, it seems superfluous to kick it. Modern religious fellow-travelling is nourished on the awareness that the contemporary religious communities are on the defensive; thus to be anti-religious (like being a feminist) is old hat. Now one can afford to look on sympathetically and derive nourishment from whatever one can find to admire. Religions are converted into “religion,” as painting and sculpture of different periods and motives are converted into “art.” For the modern post-religious man the religious museum, like the world of the modern spectator of art, is without walls; he can pick and choose as he likes, and be committed to nothing except his own reverent spectatorship.

– Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1996)

I am no stranger to the truth but very uncomfortable about the lies that have dogged me since my birth. It is no surprise that we do not always remember our name.

– Jeanette Winterson, The World and Other Places (1998)

Blaming the victim is the most classical and familiar practice of aggressors and tormentors: it’s his fault. The victim has not been attacked, he has made himself be attacked. He has elicited the violence that has been inflicted on him. One might even say that the very fact that he lets himself be treated in this way—and it matters little whether he really had a choice—clearly demonstrates that in some sense he deserved it. Voltaire was saying nothing else when he wrote regarding the slave trade: “We are severely reproached for this kind of traffic, but the people who make a trade of selling their children are certainly more blamable than those who purchase them, and this traffic is only a proof of our superiority. He who voluntarily subjects himself to a master is designed by nature for a slave.”

– Grégoire Chamayou, Manhunts: A Philosophical History (2012)

We live in a society whose entire way of life testifies to the thoroughness with which the deity has been dispatched, but philosophers, writers, men of conscience everywhere squirm under the burden. For it is a far simpler matter to plot and commit a crime than it is to live with it afterwards.

– Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1996)

Perhaps there is no other activity that has established such an obvious dividing line between the animal and the human as sex. In the beginning, in the night of earliest times, this difference did not exist and both were conjoined in a physical coupling without mystery, without grace, without subtlety and without love. The humanization of the lives of men and women is a long process in which the advance of scientific knowledge and philosophical and religious ideas played their part, as did the development of arts and letters. […] To gauge how primitive a community is or how far it has advanced in civilization there is no better way than by scrutinizing the secrets of the bedroom and finding out how its inhabitants make love.

– Mario Vargas Llosa, Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society (2015)

Genesis is a beautiful piece of writing: part poem, part folk tale, it is hard not to fall victim to the idea that here is something pure, which has been dirtied by celibates and misogynists to the subsequent ruin of womankind. As though there were such a thing as an original, Edenic text, in which man and woman were equal, and no one or nothing was to blame. For the first 66 lines of the Bible, this balance seems to exist, then Adam points the finger, says, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree,’ and God curses her into loving him anyway.

– Anne Enright, “The Genesis of Blame”

The thought occurred to me that if the name of everyone on earth who is remembered for any kind of distinction were assigned to a crater or a mountain or a seeming rivulet somewhere in the visible universe, the astronomers would soon be out of names. […] Scatter the names of all those who have ever lived over the surface of the knowable cosmos, and it would remain, for all purposes, as unnamed as it was before the small, anomalous flicker of human life appeared on this small, wildly atypical planet.

– Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays (2012)

I think it is in fact peculiarly Western to feel no tie of particularity to any single past or history, to experience that much underrated thing called deracination, the meditative, free appreciation of whatever comes under one’s eye, without any need to make such tedious judgments as “mine” and “not mine.”

– Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays (2012)

It doesn’t, in our contemporary world, so much matter where you begin the examination of a subject, so long as you keep on until you get round again to your starting-point. As it were, you start on a sphere, or a cube; you must keep on until you have seen it from all sides. Or if you think of your subject as a stool or table, you must keep on until it has three legs and will stand up, or four legs and won’t tip over too easily

– Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (1934)