Category Archives: Quotes

Quotes from stuff I’m reading that I don’t want to lose.

Wendell Berry, Andy Catlett

First passage:

Starting with those conversations so long ago with Aunt Sarah Jane, I have learned to understand the old structure of racism as a malevolent convention, the malevolence of which is hard to locate in the conscious intentions of most people. It was a circumstance that was mostly taken for granted. It was inexcusable, yet we had the formidable excuse of being used to it. It was an injustice both accommodated and varyingly obscured not only by daily custom, but also by the exigencies and preoccupations of daily life. We left the issue alone, not exactly by ignoring it, but by observing an elaborate etiquette that permitted us to ignore it. White people who wished to think well of themselves did not use the language of racial insult in front of black people. But the the problem for us white people, as we had finally to understand, was that we could not be selectively complicit. To be complicit at all, even thoughtlessly by custom, was to be complicit in the whole extent and reach of the injustice. It is hard for a customary indifference to unstick itself from the abominations to which it tacitly consents. But we were used to it. What is the hardest to get used to maybe, once you are aware, is the range of things humans are able to get used to. I was more used to this once than I am now. Berry, Wendell. Andy Catlett: Early Travels. ( Emeryville, CA: Counterpoint, 2006) 75-76.

Second passage:

Increasingly over the last maybe forty years, the thought has come to me that the old world in which our people lived by the work of their hands, close to weather and earth, plants and animals, was the true world; and that the new world of cheap energy and ever cheaper money, honored greed, and dreams of liberation from every restraint, is mostly theater. This new world seems a jumble of scenery and props never quite believable, an economy of fantasies and moods, in which it is hard to remember either the timely world of nature or the eternal world of the prophets and poets. And I fear, I believe I know, that the doom of the older world I knew as a boy will finally afflict the new one that replaced it.
The world I knew as a boy was flawed, surely, but it was substantial and authentic. The households of my grandparents seemed to breathe forth a sense of the real cost and worth of things. Whatever came, came by somebody’s work.

Berry, Wendell. Andy Catlett: Early Travels. (Emeryville, CA: Counterpoint, 2006), 93.

Protests and movements

Taylor Branch from yesterday’s paper:

“A movement is different from a demonstration,” said Taylor Branch, a historian of the civil rights era.

“It’s not automatic — it’s the opposite of automatic,” he said, “that a demonstration in the street is going to lead to a movement that engages enough people, and has a clear enough goal that it has a chance to become institutionalized, like the Voting Rights Act.”

Here is Ibram Kendi from How to be antiracist:

Ibram X Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (New York: One World Books, 2019), 215-216.

Dorothy Thompson

“The thing which we are all up against is propaganda. Sometimes I think this age is going to be called the age of propaganda, an unprecedented rise of propaganda, propaganda as a weapon, propaganda as a technique, propaganda as a fine art, and propaganda as a form of government.”

Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, 1 edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 491.

Cleaning up

This is a page I tore out of a notebook, put in a pile of papers, and then forgot about. I wrote this down at some point in 1996-1997 while student teaching. I am doubtful I was reading Foucault directly; I’m betting this quote was in another book (Ira Shor? bell hooks? Peter McLauren? ) How long before I started doodling?

I don’t believe that the question of ‘who exercises power’ can be resolved unless that other question ‘how does it happen’ is resolved at the same time.


“There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.”

Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 360.

Her source: William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass (New York: Norton, 1991), 371.

“There is no impeachment problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.”

Ken Burns Talk

Various thoughts from Ken Burns talk

  • History is the best teacher
  • The goal is to make a film that … “drops out of your head and into your heart.”
  • Race is at the core of the American narrative
  • “All of our films are made in the editing room”  

Process: Reading, scholars, museums, archives, and interviews

  • We’re 80-100 hour a week people.  
  • “Remove the arrogance we have about the past”   
  • “Good history is making you think it won’t turn out the way it did.”   
  • “The internet equalizes…”  
  • “Most of what we do is subtraction…(Analogy to syrup: forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.)   
  • There’s no boundaries in music; WM quote: “Music as the art of the invisible”  
  • KB as conductor of huge orchestra.   
  • When something is going wrong: “Someone, somewhere, let something slide.”  
  • Note about teachers — “more about how to be a person than a filmmaker”  
  • Points at TJ and DoI: second greatest sentence in the English language.   
  • Laws of storytelling are the same, no matter what kind of film you’re making.   (Difference between me and Spielberg is that he can make something up and I can’t.)   

The souls of

Reading The Souls of Yellow Folk  by Wesley Yang. 

These essays are awesome and I want to try and use in class. Here’s a quote from the profile on Aaron Schwartz that I’m going to process with my students at some point:

As I listened to the tributes to Aaron Swartz in Highland Park and New York and online, this aphorism came to mind. Swartz had skipped out on the lessons taught by the American high school—the lessons in cynical acquiescence, conformity, and obedience to the powers that be. He was right to think these lessons injure people’s innate sense of curiosity and morality and inure them to mediocrity. He was right to credit his “arrogance” for the excellence of the life he lived. But if nothing else, these lessons prepare people for a world that can often be met in no other way; a world whose irrational power must sometimes simply be endured. This was a lesson that he contrived never to learn, which was part of what made him so extraordinary. 

Certainly not all high schools. I hope. Or at least not all of the time.

This too shall pass

Went down the internet rabbit hole to try and figure out the source of this saying. I like the sound of “this too shall pass” more than “this, too, shall pass away.” I thought it was biblical, but no, it’s a story that’s floated around for awhile. Persian poets? Jewish folklore?

Abraham Lincoln, though, used it in a speech in 1859. Here are additional excerpts from that speech:

 The mind, already trained to thought, in the country school, or higher school, cannot fail to find there an exhaustless source of profitable enjoyment. Every blade of grass is a study; and to produce two, where there was but one, is both a profit and a pleasure. And not grass alone; but soils, seeds, and seasons — hedges, ditches, and fences, draining, droughts, and irrigation — plowing, hoeing, and harrowing — reaping, mowing, and threshing — saving crops, pests of crops, diseases of crops, and what will prevent or cure them — implements, utensils, and machines, their relative merits, and [how] to improve them — hogs, horses, and cattle — sheep, goats, and poultry — trees, shrubs, fruits, plants, and flowers — the thousand things of which these are specimens — each a world of study within itself.

The thought recurs that education — cultivated thought — can best be combined with agricultural labor, or any labor, on the principle of thorough work — that careless, half performed, slovenly work, makes no place for such combination. And thorough work, again, renders sufficient, the smallest quantity of ground to each man. And this again, conforms to what must occur in a world less inclined to wars, and more devoted to the arts of peace, than heretofore.

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away.” And yet let us hope it is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.

Three echoes as I read and re-read Lincoln’s words:

one, the line from the Gettysburg address: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

two, at 1:28, facing a creature of fire and ash: you shall not pass…

three, All Things Must Pass.