The Most Beloved
of Paradoxes
In our very first issue, back in the dead of winter of 1994-95, we published in this magazine our first official "Paradox-of-the-Month" . . . an Important Thought that we believed would serve to delight the contrarians in the crowd and muddle the few remaining existentialists in the world.

The original mot was dreamed up by André Malraux, and went as follows:

We are in the cosmic realm,
a realm older than religion.
The idea of the creation of the world
has probably not yet been conceived.
They kill in the eternal.
The gods have not yet been born.

We illustrated this with an equally baffling picture,
drawn from one of our favorite dada photographers:

The "Paradox of the Month" is now a staple of the magazine,
an addled bit of wisdom offered up monthly
to those who enjoy defying logic with logic.
Here are a dozen or so that continue to irritate if not enlighten us
with palmy if not inappropriate pix.
We list them here in declining order of mystery.


Eternity is in love

with the production of time.
--- William Blake,
The Marriage of
Heaven and Hell

The Register of Our Faces

The wrinkles and creases on our faces
are the registration of the great passions, vices,
insights that called upon us . . .

. . . but we, the masters,
were not home.

--- Walter Benjamin
As quoted in
From Here to Tierra del Fuego
Paul Magee

The Three Rules of Life

Never play cards with a man called Doc.

Never eat at a place called Mom's.

Never sleep with a woman whose troubles

are worse than your own.

--- A Walk on the Wild Side
©1956, Nelson Algren

Mark Twain
The World

Sometimes I wonder
whether the world is being run
by smart people who are putting us on
or by imbeciles who really mean it.
--- As quoted in The Sun

A Letter to
the New York Times
on the Subject of Suicide

There's nothing to live for, nor is there anything to die for. I would like, Mr. Editor, for this letter to make clear to the youth of your city that the only way to show disdain for life is to accept it. Life isn't worth the trouble it takes to leave it . . . Suicide is very comfortable, too comfortable: I haven't committed suicide. I wouldn't want to leave regretting not having taken with me the Statue of Liberty, or love, or the United States.
I send my most energetic protest against this absurd wave of suspension-bridge suicides. Youth of New York: choose sumptuous hotels if you want to leave this life. Some hotels are, frankly, rather literary. (After all, the world of letters rests in the hotels of the imagination.) In Europe they've known this for a long time and consider suicides elegant only if they happen in places like the Ritz.

--- From A Brief History of Portable Literature
Enrique Vila-Matas
©2015 New Directions

Suffering and Corruption

Suffering does not make us better people or heroes.

Suffering like all things human, corrupts,

and suffering peddled publicly corrupts absolutely.

- - - Norman Manea
As quoted in
The New Yorker Magazine,
1 September 2003

The Song of
Old Sparky

Just as the prisoner was being strapped into the electric chair, the priest said, "Son, is there anything I can do for you?" The prisoner said, "Yeah, when they pull the switch, hold my hand."
--- Dick Gregory
If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school-children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.
--- Lenny Bruce
As quoted in The Sun
August 2010

The World
To Come

The Hassidim tell a story about
the world to come that says
everything there will be
just as it is here.
Just as our room is now,
so it will be in the world to come;
where our baby sleeps now,
there too it will sleep in the other world.
And the clothes we wear in this world,
those too we will wear there.
Everything will be as it is now,
just a little different.
--- From 10:04
Ben Lerner
©2014 Faber & Faber

The Bomb Today

At the end of the neolithic age, we have the Bomb as environment. The Bomb is not a gimmick or a gadget. It is not something that has been inserted in the military establishment more than automation is something that is now being inserted into the industrial establishment. The Bomb, like automation, is a new environment consisting of a network of information and feedback loops.
The Bomb, as pure information, consists of higher learning. It is, as it were, the extension division of the modern university in its highest research areas, creating a very tight environment indeed.

--- From Understanding Me:
Lectures and Interviews

Marshall McLuhan
©2005 MIT Press

Appointment in Samarra

A merchant in Bagdad sends his servant to the market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant comes back, pale and trembling, and says, "Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Let me take your horse so I can get away from here. I'll go to Samarra and Death won't find me." So the merchant loans the man his horse and the man goes as fast as he can to Samarra.
Afterwards, the merchant goes down to the marketplace and sees Death standing in the crowd and he says to her, "Why did you make such a threating gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?" "That wasn't a threatening gesture," Death says: "It was just that I was surprised to see him here in Bagdad because I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
--- The Apocrypha

Towns with Strange Names
    As a place name,
    Fucking is benign in the German language.
    However, due to increased notoriety, road signs
    are commonly stolen in Fucking, Austria, as souvenirs ---
    the only crime which has been reported in the village.
    It cost some 300 euros to replace each stolen sign,
    and the costs were reflected in the taxes that local residents pay.
    In 2004, owing mainly to the stolen signs,
    a vote was held on changing the village's name,
    but the residents voted against doing so.

    Tarsdorf municipality's mayor Siegfried Höppl stated
    that it was decided to keep the name as it had existed for 800 years,
    and further stated that "Everyone here knows what it means in English,
    but for us Fucking is Fucking ---
    and it's going to stay Fucking."

The Collapse of the Stellar Universe

Werner Herzog was promoting a new book.

It was called A Guide for the Perplexed.

Paul Holdengräber reminded him of the dictum, attributed to Blaise Pascal, that opens Lessons of Darkness, Herzog's 1992 documentary:

"The collapse of the stellar universe will occur --- like creation --- in grandiose splendour."

Herzog repeated it. He said, "Actually, Pascal didn't write that. I wrote that."

Holdengräber said: "But it sounds so very like Pascal."

"Pascal should have written it," Herzog said, of the 17th-century philosopher.

"That's why I signed his name."

--- As reported by James Camp
The Guardian
7 September 2014

The Correct Way To Die

"The worst thing that can happen to your career is to be shot out in an open field. You've got to be in the right position to die dramatically, against a wall, near something to hang onto. Never close your eyes. Glaze them. You can't go wrong bringing something down with you when you fall. A tablecloth is excellent. Preferably with a meal on it."

--- George Plimpton
26 September 2003


"Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time."

--- Albert Camus

Big Brother
Isn't Watching

Are the spies doing what they're doing because they're interested in us?

Civil libertarians say yes, and that the monitoring must stop; security advocates say no, not if we aren't doing anything bad.

The paranoid reaction --- that if I use the word "bomb" in an email to my aunt from the vicinity of a Bali nightclub then I may find black-suited agents descending on my hotel room --- is just an extreme version of the narcissistic fallacy that someone is trying to see into my brain.

There are seven billion people on the planet, and nearly seven billion mobile phones; six billion emails are sent every hour; 1.2 petabytes of data travel across the internet every minute, the equivalent of two thousand years' worth of music playing continuously, the contents of 2.2 billion books.

Even if they don't get everything --- the NSA claims, with loving wording, to "touch" just 1.6 per cent of global internet traffic, or about 35 million books' worth of data a minute --- the spooks have an awful more to be getting on with than worrying about you.

So the question has to be not so much
"Is Big Brother watching?"
How in hell can it cope?

--- "How to Get Ahead at the NSA"
Daniel Soar
The London Review of Books
24 October 2013

Germany, France and Sweden
General Cork asked me
what Germany, France
and Sweden were really like.
"The Comte de Gobineau," I replied, "has described Germany as les Indes de l'Europe."
"France," I replied, "is an island surrounded by land."
"Sweden," I replied, "is a forest of fir trees in dinner jackets."
---From The Skin
Curzio Malaparte
David Moore, Translator
©2013, New York Review Books

The Cooling of the Sun

Though I am now disillusioned, I cannot think about the cooling of the sun without fear.
I don't mind if my fellow men forget about me the day after I'm buried.
As long as they're alive, I'll haunt them, unnamed, imperceptible,
present in every one of them just as the billions of dead who are unknown
to me and whom I preserve from annihilation are present in me.
But if mankind disappears, it will kill its dead
for good.
--- The Words
Jean-Paul Sartre

Death Rates:
Abortion vs. Normal Childbirth

In the U. S., the fatality risk with mifepristone [RU-486] is slightly less than 1 per 100,000 cases, compared with 0.1 per 100,000 for surgical abortion at eight weeks or less.
Pregnancy itself carries a fatality rate of 11.8 per 100,000.

--- Consumer Reports
February 2005

Important Investment Advice
In Time of War

Buy at the sound of cannons.

Sell at the sound of trumpets.

--- Barrons
Three weeks after
the WTC attacks

The Terror

David Lawley, in his new biography,
tells one of the great stories of Prince Tallyrand.

A Jacobin radical bursts into his study during the Terror and Tallyrand gives him a glass of cognac, which he immediately starts to guzzle. Tallyrand stops him:

"No, no, no, that is not the way to drink cognac. One does it like this. One takes the glass in the hollow of the hand, one warms it, one shakes it with a circular motion to liberate the scent, then one raises it to one's nostrils, one breathes it in."

"And then?" sighs the panicked visitor.

"'And then, Sir, one puts one's glass down and one discusses it."

--- David A. Bell
From a Review of Napoleon's Master
David Lawday
LRB, 16 November 2006

To Never Be Born

Mrs. Rooney: I remember once attending a lecture by one of these new mind doctors, I forget what you call them. He spoke ...

Mr. Rooney: A lunatic specialist?

Mrs. Rooney: No no, just the troubled mind, I was hoping he might shed a little light on my lifelong preoccupation with horses' buttocks.

Mr. Rooney: A Neurologist?

Mrs. Rooney: No no, just mental distress, the name will come back to me in the night. I remember his telling us the story of a little girl, very strange and unhappy in her ways, and how he treated her unsuccessfully over a period of years and was finally obliged to give up the case. He could find nothing wrong with her, he said. The only thing wrong with her as far as he could see was that she was dying. And she did in fact die, shortly after he washed his hands of her.

Mr. Rooney: Well? What is there so wonderful about that?

Mrs. Rooney: No, it was just something he said, and the way he said it, that has haunted me ever since. When he had done with the little girl he stood there motionless for some time, quite two minutes I should say, looking down at his table. Then he suddenly raised his head and exclaimed, as if he had had a revelation, "The trouble with her was she had never really been born!" [Pause] He spoke throughout without notes. [Pause] I left before the end ... [Sobs] There's nothing to be done for those people!

Mr. Rooney: For which is there?

---From All That Fall
Samuel Beckett
As quoted in The Lourdes of Arizona

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