Peter Matthiessen


American Novelist, Non-Fiction Writer, Environmental Activist and CIA-agent, Co-Founder of The Paris Review, 3-time National Book Award Winner

Author Quotes

Tukum is at times forgetful about his pigs, being readily distracted by other children, dragonflies, puddles of water, and wild foods.

We cling to such extreme moments, in which we seem to die, yet are reborn. In sexual abandon as in danger we are impelled, however briefly, into that vital present in which we do not stand apart from life, we are life, our being fills us; in ecstasy with another being, loneliness falls away into eternity. But in other days, such union was attainable through simple awe.

We have had no news of modern times since late September, and will have none until December, and gradually my mind has cleared itself, and wind and sun pour through my head, as through a bell. Though we talk little here; I am never lonely; I am returned into myself.

We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.

When I'm in the field, when I'm working, I keep very careful notes. I wear big shirts with big breast pockets, and I carry in them two little spiral notebooks.

Where could that vast Smile reside if not in my own being? ?and insight into ?one?s True Nature? may vary widely in its depth and permanence: some may overturn existence, while others are mere tantalizing glimpses that ?like a mist will surely disappear.? To poke a finger through the wall is not enough ? the whole wall must be brought down with a crash!

Without ever attempting to speak it, we perceive life in the same way, or rather, I perceive it in the very way that Tukten lives it. In his life in the moment, in his freedom from attachments, in the simplicity of his everyday example, Tukten has taught me over and over, he is the teacher that I hoped to find: I used to say this to myself as a kind of instinctive joke, but now I wonder if it is not true. ?When you are ready,? Buddhists say, ?the teacher will appear.? In the way he watched me, in the way he smiled, he was awaiting me; had I been ready, he might have led me far enough along the path ?to see the snow leopard.?

Wonderfully, Jang-bu laughed aloud, as did Dawa and Phu-Tsering although it meant wet clothes and a wet sleeping bag for the head sherpa. That happy-go-lucky spirit, that acceptance which is not fatalism but a deep trust in life, made me ashamed.

You mean... Billy exclaimed at last, you mean... ? his voice rose high and clear ? you mean... ? and he jumped to his feet, and standing there under the giant trees, pointed at himself, a small outraged boy named William Martin Quarrier, aged eight: You mean I just came crashing down into Ma?s under-pants?

They are big handsome silver-brown creatures, one of the most beautiful of primates, with frosted faces and an expression so entirely detached as to seem disdainful- a very suitable expression?

This world is painted on a wild dark metal.

Though these journals remind of the date, I have long since lost track of the day of the week, and the great events that must be taking place in the world we left behind are as illusory as events from the future century. It is not so much that we are going back in time as that time seems circular, and past and future have lost meaning. I understand much better now Einstein?s remark that the only real time is that of the observer, who carries with him his own time and space. In these mountains, we have fallen behind history.

To perceive the true nature of existence was one reason for performing a vision quest: after four days of fasting alone on a high rock, in great silence and solitude of earth, one is bound to discover that what was thought as a separate self is not separate from the trees, the rocks, the hawk, the insect peoples, that beyond the senses lies a different plane of consciousness in which all is related, simultaneous, and one.

To proceed as though you know nothing, not even your age, nor sex, nor how you look. To proceed as though you were made of gossamer. . . a mist that passes through and is passed through and retains its form. A mist that loses its form and still is. A mist that finally dissolves, particles scattered in the sun.

Today most scientists would agree with the ancient Hindus that nothing exists or is destroyed, things merely change shape or form; that matter is insubstantial in origin, a temporary aggregate of pervasive energy that animates the electron. And what is this infinitesimal non-thing ? to a speck of dust what the dust speck is to the whole earth? ?Do we really know what electricity is? By knowing the laws according to which it acts and by making use of them, we still do not know the origin or the real nature of this force, which ultimately may be the very source of life, and consciousness, the divine power and mover of all that exists.?

Column after column, page after page, of the more common family names ascend softly from the circle of still figures to be borne away on gusts of wind-whirled snow. Schwartz, Herschel; Schwartz, Isaac A.; Schwartz, Isaac D.; Schwartz, Isidor--Who? Isidor? You too? The voices are all but inaudible as befits snuffed-out identities that exist only on lists, with no more reality than forgotten faces in old photo albums--Who's this bald guy in the back? Stray faces of no more significance than wind fragments of these names of long ago, of no more substance than this snowflake poised one moment on his pen before dissolving into voids beyond all Knowing. In Paradise 87-88

I used to distinguish between my fiction and nonfiction in terms of superiority or inferiority.

Isn?t that the joy of fiction? To probe for fresh experience rather than perpetuate received wisdom? Why turn out endless variations on what we have already done well; what our reviewers, and friends and family, too, assure us we do best; what everyone feels most comfortable with and what might sell. Why not explore new territory and also new means of getting there when that seems necessary? Too few writers these days seem to risk long-term commitment to a project, like that of the great novelists of the nineteenth century, and Proust and Joyce. Not risk painful controversy, as Styron did in Sophie?s Choice and Nat Turner, nor even extend their reach from book to book, as Mailer tries to do, and Don DeLillo. Because these novelists embrace large subjects, they will write long books when necessary, although quite aware that the poor overworked reviewers and the busy readers much prefer slight fictions.

Now those psychedelic years seem far away; I neither miss them nor regret them. Drugs can clear away the past, enhance the present; toward the inner garden, they can only point the way. Lacking the temper of ascetic discipline, the drug vision remains a sort of dream that cannot be brought over into daily life. Old mists may be banished, that is true, but the alien chemical agent forms another mist, maintaining the separation of the I from the experience of the One.

The central feature of the practice of meditation and hard work known as Zen is that, as Matthiessen says, it has no patience with mysticism, far less the occult. Nor does it have any time with moralism, the prescriptions or distortions we would impose on the world, obscuring it from our view. It asks, it insists rather, that we take this moment for what it is, undistracted, and not cloud it with needless worries of what might have been or fantasies of what might come to be. It is, essentially, a training in the real?the Universe itself is the scripture of Zen. Pico Iyer from introduction.

The sherpas are alert for ways in which to be of use, yet are never insistent, far less servile; since they are paid to perform a service, why not do it as well as possible? Here, sir! I will wash the mud! I carry that, sir! As GS says, When the going gets rough, they take care of you first. Yet their dignity is unassailable, for the service is rendered for its own sake- it is the task, not the employer, that is served. As Buddhists, they know that the doing matters more that the attainment or reward, that to serve in this selfless way is to be free. Because of their belief in karma- the principle of cause and effect that permeates Buddhism and Hinduism (and Christianity, for the matter: as we sow, so shall we reap)- they are tolerant and unjudgmental, knowing that bad acts will receive their due without the intervention of the victim.

A man must grow himself, until he understands the intelligence of the flower.

Even that gay and loveable fellow, as GS once said of Phu-Tsering, hasn?t the slightest curiosity about what I am doing; he?ll stand behind me for hours while I?m looking and taking notes and not ask a single question.

I walk lighter, stumble less, with more spring in leg and lung, keeping my center of gravity deep in the belly, and letting that center 'see.' At these times, I am free of vertigo, even in dangerous places; my feet move naturally to firm footholds, and I flow. But sometimes for a day or more, I lose this feel of things, my breath is high up in my chest, and then I cling to the cliff edge as to life itself. And of course it is this clinging, the tightness of panic, that gets people killed: 'to clutch,' in ancient Egyptian, 'to clutch the mountain,' in Assyrian, were euphemisms that signified 'to die' (125).

It is related that Sakyamuni [the historical Buddha] once dismissed as of small consequence a feat of levitation on the part of a disciple, and cried out in pity for a yogin by the river who had spent twenty years of his human existence learning to walk on water, when the ferryman might have taken him across for a small coin.

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American Novelist, Non-Fiction Writer, Environmental Activist and CIA-agent, Co-Founder of The Paris Review, 3-time National Book Award Winner