All readings are partial and approximate, and we must content ourselves with whatever joy and insight we can derive from deep ideas rendered clearly in beautiful language, knowing that our derivative response and the author’s original vision will never be perfectly aligned.
…the nice thing about having a brain is that one can learn, that ignorance can be supplanted by knowledge, and that small bits of knowledge can gradually pile up into substantial heaps.
I could not conclude my anecdotes about dictionary look-up without sharing one special moment of delight, which was when, trying to decode “pad a slang”, I looked up “slang”, found the very promising-seeming meaning of “traveling show”, and noted, with much amusement, that this meaning was classified as, of all things, “archaic slang”.
For me, an erstwhile physicist and ever a faithful lover of the beautiful concepts of physics, the word “medium” has a special aura to it. It evokes dozens of rich images, among them these: a wrist-flick pulse snaking its way down the twisty coils of a horizontally suspended Slinky; glittering circular patterns of ripples passing silently through each other on the windless surface of a pond; sound waves emanating from a sharp snap of the fingers and propagating through the air as ever-growing spheres;…
A medium is a vehicle for patterns, a propagator of distortions, a transmitter of disturbances.
Art is the dream of order out of the sense of chaos: the three-cushion shot to the eight ball, the hewn stone that looks like the god Apollo, Charlie Parker improvising on “How High the Moon,” or Fred Astaire, even if he’s only walking across a room.
…Perhaps he didn’t say this. It is bad enough that it is so easy to believe that he did.
If you adhere to an honor code, you’ll not only respond with respect to those who keep it, you’ll respond with contempt to those who don’t. So, if you yourself meet the standards, you’ll have self-respect; and if you yourself fall short, you will have contempt for yourself, which is shame. If someone doesn’t feel shame when they fail (or, at least, when they fail badly) that shows they don’t adhere to the code. We say that they are shameless.
Looking at honor killing, a practice that is older than Islam and still pervasive in large parts of Africa and Asia, we should remember that these other ancient customs that seemed immense and enduring and immovable burned, in the end, like flash paper.
…People at home draw the attention of their countrymen to the way an honor practice harms their national reputation abroad. The strategy requires careful application because it can produce a defensive nationalist backlash, in which the practice under criticism is taken up and defended with renewed vigor precisely because uncomprehending foreigners have declared themselves against it. That is one reason why it is important that the contributions of outsiders should not be uncomprehending. … In the struggle against honor killing, Islam is an ally.
There are important differences between dignity, understood this way, and other forms of honor; but the two have something important in common. If you fail to act in a way consistent with your dignity, people will rightly cease to respect you. You do not have to earn your human dignity–you do not have to do anything special to get it. But if you fail to live up to your humanity, you can lose it.