Impressions

Impressions, if you remember are the collections of passages from books and papers that I have read over time. These passages are such that they leave a mark and make up a significant contribution to the impression a book ultimately has, like a quality of a person which you like more than all other qualities. More such impressions can be read here and here.

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From Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

To see the city in black and white is to see it through the tarnish of history: the patina of what is old and faded and no longer matters to the rest of the world. Even the greatest Ottoman architecture has a humble simplicity that suggests an end-of-empire gloom, a pained submission to the diminishing European gaze and to an ancient poverty that must be endured like an incurable disease. It is resignation that nourishes Istanbul’s inward-looking soul. To see the city in black and white, to see the haze that sits over it ad breathe in the melancholy its inhabitants have embraced as their common fate, you need only to fly in from a rich western city and head straight to the crowded streets; if it’s winter, every man on the Galata Bridge will be wearing the same pale, drab, shadowy clothes. The Istanbullus of my era have shunned the vibrant reds, greens and oranges of their rich, proud ancestors; to foreign visitors, it looks as if they have done so deliberately, to make a moral point. They have not – but there is in their dense gloom a suggestion of modesty. This is how you dressed in a black-and-white city, they seem to be saying; this is how you grieve for a city that has been in decline for a hundred and fifty years.

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From The Hildebrand Rarity by Ian Fleming

James Bond nodded amiably. ‘I’ve got no objection. She’s your ship’. ‘It’s my ship,’ corrected Mr Krest. ‘That’s another bit of damned nonsense, making a hunk of steel and wood a female. Anyway, let’s go. You don’t need to mind your head. Everything’s a six-foot-two clearance.’ Bond followed the narrow passage that ran the length of the ship, and for half an hour made appropriate comments on what was certainly the finest and most luxuriously designed yacht he had ever seen. In every detail, the margin was for extra comfort. Even the crew’s bath and shower was full size, and the stainless steel galley, or kitchen as Mr Krest called it, was as big as the Krest stateroom. Mr Krest opened the door of the latter without knocking. Liz Krest was at the dressing table… The girl hurriedly picked up a compact and made for the door. She gave them both a nervous half-smile and went out. ‘ Vermont birch panelling, Corning glass lamps, Mexican tuft rugs..’ Mr Krest’s catalogue ran smoothly on. But Bond was looking at something else that hung down almost out of sight by the bedside table on what was obviously Mr Krest’s side of the huge double bed. It was a thin whip about three feet long with a leather-thonged handle. It was the tail of a sting-ray. Casually Bond walked over to the side of the bed and picked it up. He ran a finger down its spiny gristle. It hurt his finger even to do that. He said: ‘Where did you pick that up? I was hunting one of these animals this morning.’ ‘Bahrein. The Arabs use them on their wives.’ Mr Krest chuckled easily. ‘Haven’t had to use more than one stroke at a time on Liz so far. Wonderful results. We call it my “Corrector”.’

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From Politics and the English language by George Orwell

Orthodoxy of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of Under-secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating familiar phrases – bestial atrocities, iron heel, blood-stained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulders – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into black discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance towards turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political confirmity… Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

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From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down the hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of heavy land adjacent to  Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution.

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From Is God an Accident by Paul Bloom

In a significant study the psychologists Jesse Bering, of the University of Arkansas, and David Bjorklund, of Florida Atlantic University, told young children a story about an alligator and a mouse, complete with a series of pictures, that ended in tragedy: “Uh oh! Mr. Alligator sees Brown Mouse and is coming to get him!” [The children were shown a picture of the alligator eating the mouse.] “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator. Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.” The experimenters asked the children a set of questions about the mouse’s biological functioning—such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, will he ever need to go to the bathroom? Do his ears still work? Does his brain still work?”—and about the mouse’s mental functioning, such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, is he still hungry? Is he thinking about the alligator? Does he still want to go home?” As predicted, when asked about biological properties, the children appreciated the effects of death: no need for bathroom breaks; the ears don’t work, and neither does the brain. The mouse’s body is gone. But when asked about the psychological properties, more than half the children said that these would continue: the dead mouse can feel hunger, think thoughts, and have desires. The soul survives. And children believe this more than adults do, suggesting that although we have to learn which specific afterlife people in our culture believe in (heaven, reincarnation, a spirit world, and so on), the notion that life after death is possible is not learned at all. It is a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.

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Impressions

The posts named ‘Impressions’ are collections of texts from various books that I have read at different points of time. These selected texts have stayed in my memory as someone’s peculiar feature stays in our memories after meeting them for the first time like a smile or a scar or a look of melancholy or joy.

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From Al-Anbiya – Quran

And indeed, long before (the time of Moses) We vouchsafed unto Abraham his consciousness of what is right; and We were aware of (what moved) him when he said unto his father and his people, “What are these images to which you are so intensely devoted?” They answered: “We found our forefathers worshiping them.” Said he: “Indeed, you and your forefather have obviously gone astray!” They asked: “Hast thou come unto us (with this claim)  in all earnest – or art thou one of those jesters?” He answered: “Nay, but your (true) Sustainer is the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth – He who has brought them into being: and I am one of those who bear witness to this (truth) !” And  (he added to himself,)” By God, I shall most certainly bring about the downfall of your idols as soon as you have turned your backs and gone away!” And then he broke those (idols) to pieces, (all) save the biggest of them, so that they might (be able to) turn to it.(When they saw what had happened,) they said: “Who has done this to our gods? Verily, one of the worst wrong doers is he!” Said some (of them): “We heard a youth speak of these gods (with scorn): he is called Abraham.” (The others) said: “Then bring him before the people’s eyes, so that they might bear witness (against him)!” (And when he came,) they asked: “Hast thou done this to our gods, O Abraham?” He answered: “Nay, it was this one, the biggest of them, that did it: but ask them (yourselves) – provided they can speak!” And so they turned upon one another, saying, “Behold, it is you who are doing wrong.” But then they relapsed into their former way of thinking and said: “Thou knowest very well that these (idols) cannot speak!” Said (Abraham): “Do you then worship, instead of God, something that cannot benefit you in any way, nor harm you? Fie upon you and upon all that you worship instead of God! Will you not, then, use your reason?” They exclaimed: “Burn him, and (thereby) succour your gods, if you are going to do (anything)!” (But) We said: “O fire! Be thou cool and (a source of) inner peace for Abraham!”

 

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From The Road to Mecca, Muhammad Asad

But what might appear even more strange is that despite the great variety  of human types and costumes that fills them, there is nothing of an ‘exotic’ medley in the streets of Medina: the variety of appearances reveal itself only to the eye that is determined to analyze. It seems to me that all the people who live in this city, or even sojourn in it temporarily, very soon fall into what one might call a community of mood and thus also of behaviour and, almost, even of facial expression: for all of them have fallen under the spell of the Prophet, whose city it once was and whose guests they now are. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Even after thirteen centuries his spiritual presence is almost as alive here as it was then. It was only because of him that the scattered group of villages once called Yathrib became a city and has been loved by all Muslims down to this day as no city anywhere else in the world has ever been loved. It has not even a name of its own: for more than thirteen hundred years it has been called Madinat-un-Nabi, ‘the City of the Prophet’. For more than thirteen hundred years, so much love has converged here that all shapes and movements have acquired a kind of family resemblance, and all differences of appearance find tonal transition into a common harmony. This is the happiness one always feels here – this unifying harmony. Although life in Medina today has only a formal, distant relationship with what the Prophet aimed at; although the spiritual awareness of Islam has been cheapened here, as in many other parts of the Muslim world: an indescribable emotional link with its great spiritual past has remained alive. Never has any city been so loved for the sake of one single personality; never has any man, dead for over thirteen hundred years, been loved so personally, and by so many, as he who lies buried beneath the great green dome.

 

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From The Summing up, William Somerset Maugham

I suppose it is a natural prepossession of mankind to take people as though they were homogeneous. It is evidently less trouble to make up one’s mind about a man one way or the other and dismiss suspense with the phrase, he’s one of the best or he’s a dirty dog. It is disconcerting to find that the saviour of his country may be stingy or that the poet who has opened new horizons to our consciousness may be a snob. Our natural egoism leads us to judge people by their relations to ourselves. We want them to be certain things to us, and for us that is what they are; because the rest of them is no good to us, we ignore it. These reasons perhaps explain why there is so great a disinclination to accept the attempts to portray man with his incongruous and diverse qualities and why people turn away with dismay when candid biographers reveal truth about famous persons. It is distressing to think that the composer of the quintet in Meistersinger was dishonest in money matters and treacherous to those who had benefited him. But it may be that he could not have had great qualities if he had not also had great failings. I do not believe they are right who say that the defects of famous men should be ignored; I think it is better that we should know them. Then, though we are conscious of having faults as glaring as theirs, we can believe that that is no hindrance to our achieving also something of their virtues.

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From On Providence , Rousseau’s letter to Voltaire

As to my own part, I will confess to you ingenuously, that I think neither the pro nor contrary are demonstrable merely by the light of reason; and that if the Theist founds his sentiments only on probabilities, the Atheist, still less exact, appears to found his only on opposite possibilities. Add to this, that the objections which arise, both on one side and the other, are insoluble; because they relate to things, of which mankind have no true idea. I agree to all this, and yet I believe in God as firmly as in any other truth whatever; because to believe and not to believe, depend less than anything else on myself: a state of doubt is a state too violent for my soul, but when my reason is afloat, my faith cannot remain long in suspense, but determines without its direction. In short, a thousand motives draw me to the most consolatory side, and add the weight of hope to the equilibrium of reason. . . . . It is with as much difficulty I close this tedious letter as you will have to go through it. Forgive me, Sir, a zeal which, however it may be indiscreet, would not have displayed before you, if I had esteemed you less. God forbid I should offend him, whose talents I honour above those of all my contemporaries,  and whose writings speak the most forcibly to my heart; but the cause of Providence is at stake, on which all my expectations depend. After having so long deduced courage and consolations from your lessons, it is hard for you to deprive me of them now; to give me only a vague and uncertain hope, rather by way of a present palliative, than as a future indemnity. No. I have suffered too much in this life not to expect another. Not all the subtilties of metaphysics can make me doubt a moment of the immortality of the soul, and of a beneficent providence. I feel it, I believe it, I desire it, I hope it and will defend it to my last breath: and this, of all the disputes in which I have been engaged, is the only one in which my own interest will not be forgotten.

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From The Dead,  James Joyce

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheet and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live. Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling. A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspaper were right; snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, father westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon, every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the  crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

 

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Read more Impressions.

 

 

 

Impressions

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Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion

From Al-Hadid, Quran

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He reflected again that he thought of history, of what is called the course of history, not in the accepted way, but in the form of  images taken from the vegetable kingdom. In winter, under the snow, the bare branches of a deciduous wood are thin and poor, like hairs on an old man’s wart. But in only a few days in spring the forest is transformed, it reaches the clouds and you can hide and lose yourself in its leafy maze. During this transformation the forest moves with a speed greater than that of animals, for animals do no grow as fast as plants; yet this movement cannot be observed. The forest does not change its place, we cannot lie in wait for it and catch it in the act of moving. However much we look at it we see it as motionless. And such also is the immobility to our eyes of the eternally growing, ceaselessly changing life of society, of history moving as invisibly in its incessant transformation as the forest in spring.

 

From Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak

 

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He had sinned mortally, not once but many times and he knew that, while he stood in danger of eternal damnation for the first sin alone, by every succeeding sin he multiplied his guilt and his punishment. His days and work and thoughts could make no atonement for him, the fountains of sanctifying grace having ceased to refresh his soul. At most, by an alms given to a beggar whose blessing he fled from, he might hope wearily to win for himself some measure of actual grace. Devotion had gone by the board.  What did it avail to pray when he knew that his soul lusted after its own destruction? A certain pride, a certain awe, withheld him from offering to God even one prayer at night, though he knew it was in God’s power to take away his life while he slept  and hurl his soul hell ward ere he could beg for mercy. His pride in his own sin, his loveless awe of God, told him that his offence was too grievous to be atoned for in whole or in part by a false homage to the All-Seeing and All-Knowing.

From A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

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But Charley was a trifle surprised at the impression his own words made on him. In the course of hi recital he had for the first time seen himself from the standpoint of an observer. Until now, like an actor who says his lines, but never having seen the play from the front, has but a vague idea of what it is all about, he had played his part without asking himself whether it had any meaning. It slightly perplexed him to realize that they were all busy from morning till night, so that days were not long enough for what they wanted  to do; yet when you came to look upon the life they led from one year’s end to another it gave you an uncomfortable feeling that, they, none of them, did anything at all. It was like one of those comedies where dialogue is clever and the acting competent, so that you pass an agreeable evening but a week later, cannot remember a thing about it.

From Christmas Holiday, W.Somerset Maugham

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As in the question of astronomy then, so in the question of history now, the whole difference of opinion is based on the recognition  or non-recognition of something absolute serving as the measure of  visible phenomenon. In astronomy it was the immovability of the earth, in history it is the independence of personality – freewill.  As with astronomy the difficulty of recognizing the motion of the earth lay in abandoning the immediate sensation of the earth’s fixity and of the motion of the planets, so in history the difficulty of recognizing the subjection of personality to the laws of space, time, and cause, lies in renouncing the direct feeling of the independence of one’s own personality. But as in astronomy the new view said: ‘It is true that we do not feel the movement of the earth, but by admitting its immobility we arrive at the absurdity, while by admitting its motion (which we do not feel) we arrive at laws,’ so also in history the new view says: ‘ It is true that we are not conscious of our dependence, but by admitting our freewill we arrive at absurdity, while by admitting our dependence on the external world, on time, and on cause, we arrive at laws.’  In the first case it was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist, and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.

From War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy