Al forms of consensus about ''great'' books and ''perennial'' problems, once stabilized, tend to deteriorate eventually into something philistine. The real life of the mind is always at the frontiers of ''what is already known.'' Those great books don't only need custodians and transmitters. To stay alive, they also need adversaries. The most interesting ideas are heresies.
The quality of American life is an insult to the possibilities of human growth... the pollution of American space, with gadgetry and cars and TV and box architecture, brutalizes the senses, making gray neurotics of most of us, and perverse spiritual athletes and strident self-transcenders of the best of us.
Somewhere in the nod we were dropping cargo. Somewhere in the nod we were losing infrastructure, losing redundant systems, losing specific gravity. Weightlessness seemed at the time the safer mode. Weightlessness seemed at the time the mode in which we could beat both the clock and affect itself, but I see now that it was not.
Perhaps it is our perennial fate to be surprised by the simultaneity of events, by the sheer extension of the world in time and space. That we are here, prosperous, safe, unlikely to go to bed hungry or be blown to pieces this evening, while elsewhere in the world, right now in Grozny, in Najaf, in the Sudan, in the Congo, in Gaza, in the favelas of Rio....To be a traveleraaand novelists are often travelersaais to be constantly reminded of the simultaneity of what is going on in the world, your world and the very different world you have visited and from which you have returned home.
One set of messages of the society we live in is Consume. Grow. Do what you want. Amuse yourselves. The very working of this economic system, which has bestowed these unprecedented liberties, most cherished in the form of physical mobility and material prosperity, depends on encouraging people to defy limits.
What pornographic literature does is precisely to drive a wedge between one's existence as a full human being and one's existence as a sexual being -- while in ordinary life a healthy person is one who prevents such a gap from opening up. Normally we don't experience, at least don't want to experience, our sexual fulfillment as distinct from or opposed to our personal fulfillment. But perhaps in part they are distinct, whether we like it or not.
Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness -- pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one's consciousness, for death itself. Even on the level of simple physical sensation and mood, making love surely resembles having an epileptic fit at least as much as, if not more than, it does eating a meal or conversing with someone.
In most modern instances, interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.
The standard that a society should actually embody its own professed principles is a utopian one, in the sense that moral principles contradict the way things really are --- and always will be. How things really are --- and always will be --- is neither all-evil nor all-good but deficient, inconsistent, inferior. Principles invite us to do something about the morass of contradictions in which we function morally. Principles invite us to clean up our act to become intolerant of moral laxity and compromise and cowardice and the turning away from what is upsetting that secret gnawing of the heart that tells us that what we are doing is not right, and so counsels us that we'd be better off just not thinking about it.
Though collecting quotations could be considered as merely an ironic mimetism -- victimless collecting, as it were... in a world that is well on its way to becoming one vast quarry, the collector becomes someone engaged in a pious work of salvage. The course of modern history having already sapped the traditions and shattered the living wholes in which precious objects once found their place, the collector may now in good conscience go about excavating the choicer, more emblematic fragments.
The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating. The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure he continually restricts what he can enjoy in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion.