Was he a madman, then? Or a hoaxer who poked fun at his readers? Or a humorist appealing to a crafty reader? Or was it all a smokescreen to help him smuggle in the real content, the radical critique of society? Maybe none of these definitions is exact.

– Italo Calvino, “On Fourier, II: The Controller of Desires,” The Uses of Literature: Essays (1980)


Physiologically, man does not reach puberty until he has already completed a fifth of his normal span of life. Let us compare this with the ratio in the case of a mouse, which lives three years and starts breeding at the end of three months. This is a ratio of twelve to one. The mouse’s ratio is much more nearly typical of the large majority of mammals than is the human ratio.

Puberty for most mammals either represents the end of their epoch of tutelage, or is well beyond it. In our community, man is recognized as immature until the age of twenty-one, and the modern period of education for the higher walks of life continues until about thirty, actually beyond the time of greatest physical strength. Man thus spends what may amount to forty per cent of his normal life as a learner, again for reasons that have to do with his physical structure. It is as completely natural for a human society to be based on learning as for an ant society to be based on an inherited pattern.

– Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings (1950)

People who would consider the idea of living in the Gobi Desert intolerable – where, an estate agent might point out, there is oxygen, radiation-screening, atmospheric pressure and 1 g of gravity – rhapsodise about living on Mars. People who imagine that human life on Earth will end because of power and greed and oppression imagine that we will be able to escape these forces in pressure vessels controlled by technicians, in which we would be trapped like tadpoles in a jamjar.

– George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (2017)

After that again he went through the village, and a child ran and dashed against his shoulder. And Jesus was provoked and said unto him: Thou shalt not finish thy course. And immediately he fell down and died. […] And the parents of him that was dead came unto Joseph, and blamed him, saying: Thou that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village: or do thou teach him to bless and not to curse: for he slayeth our children.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas

So cold, so icy, that one burns one’s finger at the touch of him! Every hand that lays hold of him shrinks back!—And for that very reason many think him red-hot.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

According to an English novel he had read, men understood why they liked women’s breasts—but they didn’t understand why they liked them so much. Keith, who liked them so much, didn’t even know why he liked them. Why? Come on, he told himself: soberly enumerate their strengths and virtues. And yet somehow they directed you towards the ideal. It must be to do with the universe, Keith thought, with planets, with suns and moons.

– Martin Amis, The Pregnant Widow (2010)

Slavery wasn’t a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn’t a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Sex discrimination wasn’t a crisis until feminism turned it into one. Apartheid wasn’t a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one.

– Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014)

I woke up recently to the realisation I’d been living for some years in a bubble. That I’d failed to notice the frustration and anxieties of many people around me. I saw that my world – a civilised, stimulating place filled with ironic, liberal-minded people – was in fact much smaller than I’d ever imagined. 2016, a year of surprising – and for me depressing – political events in Europe and in America, and of sickening acts of terrorism all around the globe, forced me to acknowledge that the unstoppable advance of liberal-humanist values I’d taken for granted since childhood may have been an illusion. […] So here I am, a man in my sixties, rubbing my eyes and trying to discern the outlines, out there in the mist, to this world I didn’t suspect even existed until yesterday. Can I, a tired author, from an intellectually tired generation, now find the energy to look at this unfamiliar place?

– Kazuo Ishiguro, My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: The Nobel Lecture (2017)

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.

– Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad (2005)