Robert Grudin Quotes
“We are not great connoisseurs of the two twilights. We miss the dawning, exclusably enough, by sleeping through it, and are as much strangers to the shadowless welling-up of day as to the hesitant return of consciousness in our slowly waking selves. But our obliviousness to evening twilight is less understandable. Why do we almost daily ignore a spectacle (and I do not mean sunset but rather the hour, more or less, afterward) that has a thousand tonalities, that alters and extends reality, that offers, more beautifully than anything man-made, a visual metaphor or peace? To say that it catches us at busy or tired moments won't do; for in temperate latitudes it varies by hours from solstice to solstice. Instead I suspect that we shun twilight because if offers two things which, as insecurely rational beings, we would rather not appreciate: the vision of irrevocable cosmic change (indeed, change into darkness), and a sense of deep ambiguity—of objects seeming to be more, less, other than we think them to be. We are noontime and midnight people, and such devoted camp-followers of certainly that we cannot endure seeing it mocked and undermined by nature.
There is a brief period of twilight of which I am especially fond, little more than a moment, when I see what seems to be color without light, followed by another brief period of light without color. The earlier period, like a dawn of night, calls up such sights as at all other times are hidden, wistful half-formless presences neither of day nor night, that draw up with them similar presences in the mind.”
“Few fallacies are more dangerous or easier to fall into than that by which, having read a given book, we assume that we will continue to know its contents permanently, or having mastered a discipline in the past, we assume that we control it in the present. Philosophically speaking, "to learn" is a verb with not legitimate tense.”
“On this subject it is striking to note how many individuals pursue, outside of their own professions and with a kind of rebellious delight, hobbies that are no more than personalized forms of work. This suggests that one of the hidden desires of humanity, provoked by the inward clamor of unused potentialities, is the dream of work in freedom.”
“In old magazines and newspapers we find a number of uncomfortably revealing things: the aged as young, the dead as living, forgotten people as celebrities, an array of our own barbarous and long-discarded fads and postures, and worst, visible only in this removed perspective, our own sickening pretensions to meaning and permanence.”
“...Religious observances, once so full of suffering and awe, have become accommodating and benign. Teachers go out of their way to avoid embarrassing, insulting, overworking, or otherwise vexing their students. Each year public language is further purged of impurities that might injure sensitive groups. Prime-time television series seem dedicated to the comforting message that things are really okay.
Indeed, modern society's war on pain has been vastly more successful than its war on pain's causes.”
“If the estimated age of the cosmos were shortened to seventy-two years, a human life would take about ten seconds. But look at time the other way. Each day is a minor eternity of over 86,000 seconds. During each second, the number of distinct molecular functions going on within the human body is comparable to the number of seconds in the estimated age of the cosmos. A few seconds are long enough for a revolutionary idea, a startling communication, a baby's conception, a wounding insult, a sudden death. Depending on how we think of them, our lives can be infinitely long or infinitely short.”
“...temporal experience is neither completely recurrent (in which case it would be wholly knowable) nor completely variable (in which case it would be wholly inscrutable). In effect, it is more like a piece of complex music, a Bach fugue heard for the first time. In one sense, we are excited and surprised by the novel disposition of tones and rhythms and by the uncanny variety of the treatment. In another sense, we realize that recurring ideas and cycles are what give the work its native character, and that the variations, however stunning, have significance only in terms of their relationship to these underlying themes. Conversely, the recurrent themes are realizable in their fullest sense only through the variations upon them. The careful student of time is thus as sure that certain things will recur as he is sure that they will recur in dazzling new forms.”
“We wonder at good things, are appalled by evil. What's wondering got in common with being appalled? That strange combination, that surprise duet of disbelief and acknowledgement. You can't believe that any human being would open up with an assault gun in a trolley, but look over there--right there!--there's somebody doing it.”
“...as we proceed to higher and higher levels of expertise, and as the stakes get higher and higher, the agonies of excellence reappear in new and frightening ways. A tiny minority gets through to the top, to memorable excellence or profound understanding. The rest of us stop at stages along the way, perhaps for a temporary rest, perhaps for a period of reassessment. But once we stop, we are unlikely to start up again. Security is suddenly far sweeter than enterprise. The sufferings of the ascent, so long endured by insuppressible aspiration, suddenly seem pointless.”
“Like some homeopathic cure, our very sense of imprisonment can be a step toward liberation. We need not rebel against our temporally determined roles. Merely to recognize them is to limit their power over us. The liberation implied by such awareness is threefold. To understand one’s own temporal determinism is to establish, above and beyond what one says and does, an analytic posture toward the present as history; it is to achieve, amid the earnest vanities of contemporary society, an easing humility; it is to mark off, as territory precious and imperiled, the moments and pursuits that are left to our choice.”
- Born: The United States.
- Description: Grudin graduated from Harvard, and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley in 1969. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1992-1993. Until 1998 he was a professor of English at the University of Oregon. He has written about many political and philosophical themes including liberty, determinism, and several others.