Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robert Grudin

American Writer and Philosopher

"Death is a cessation of motion, also a cessation of time - than it has to do with life, its most complex embodiment. Thinking that time brings death is a less workable assumption than a moral evasion, an example of our chronic tendency to ascribe our woes and weaknesses to external circumstance rather than to living will."

"Time is the indwelling mystery of right action, and temporal awareness is what delineates wisdom from the mechanistic response to circumstance."

"For all the psychological and physiological conditions which test integrity - fear, desire, hunger, fatigue, disaffection, anger, pain - have little reality in memory or anticipation but rather exist for the most part in the narrow immediacy of the present."

"The person of integrity is a continuous person, for whom the present is a point on a line drawn out of memory and into the willed future, rather than an unpredicted and unwieldy configuration which seems to operate under its own law. The person of integrity is no superman; he will be, from time to time, defeated, frustrated, embarrassed and completely surprised. but neither is he the common and regular dupe of circumstance, compelled (like some tourist with a pocket dictionary) to consult conscience and emotion at each new turn of events."

"Intimacy - the willing revelation of self and absorption in another is a rare thing... those who do tend to view it as a fait accompli rather than as a communal being in need of constant renewal... True intimacy is a human constant... Intimacy is to love what concentration is to work: a simultaneous drawing together of attention and release of energy."

"Each of us occupies two temporal modalities of being: one which exists in the present and one which stretches through time to our lives’ limits. While the former constantly demands our attention, it is upon the latter that every precept of behavior and hope of happiness is based."

"The truth is forever the same, forever new."

"Laughable error and profound discovery are born of the same freedom."

"No matter where we are in age, we are always in the middle of time, and must weight our future equally with our past."

"Sexual boredom, that predator of marriages, is generally ascribed to overfamiliarity; but I think it mighty more aptly be blamed on the lack or failure of true intimacy... Sex thrives on the dynamics between novelty and intimacy... What is inalienably shared... for brief encounters, in which little is genuinely discovered or given, tend to emphasize people’s sameness rather than their individuality, and hence to obliterate the novelty that is sought. Intimacy, which demands time and trust, is available almost exclusively through marriage and long friendship."

"The mind is as limited by what it rebels against as it is by what it accepts."

"We ignore the time that is open to us. We diminish ourselves by wishing time to pass.... We commonly conceive of time as something external to ourselves... something we can “spend,” “serve” or “kill.”"

"We see processes like love and education as established circumstances rather than as complex temporal organisms whose lives depend on regular nourishment and renewal.... Like still cameras, our minds consistently convert motion into stasis."

"Your temporal formlessness belies your spatial coherence. Only by asserting yourself in time can you achieve functional identity and become in fact what you seem to be in the mirror. And such an assertion is impossible without a plan of personal development which forcefully projects your character into the future."

""Free will" and "freedom of ideas" are not only often just clich‚s; they are sometimes outright lies: the Monopoly money of pols and hucksters. One of the only ways to determine whether a marketplace is fair or crooked is to study it, not in terms of its self-advertisements, but rather in terms of its dominant designs."

"A chaotic universe is as great an insult to freedom as a mechanistic one; and common sense avows that the past and present, correctly viewed, can offer much evidence about future probabilities. To put it differently, temporal existence is neither completely recurrent (in which case it would be wholly knowable) nor completely variable (in which case it would be wholly inscrutable.)... The careful student of tie is thus as sure that certain things will recur as he is sure that they will recur in dazzling new forms... And if he wants to be truly prescient, he must exercise his knowledge not only on the outer world of events but also on the inner world of his own behavior and awareness. He must continually review his own strengths and weaknesses, his own lovers, values, and goals. For the broadest window to the future lies in the continuity of the mind perceiving it and in the consistent vigor of the will entreating it. Only integrity knows the future."

"A monstrous fallacy of time, so ingrained that it is almost automatic, is the idea that we necessarily learn more and more about important human experiences as time passes."

"According to Aristotle, time is a dimension of motion...Quantum mechanics has shown that on the subatomic level matter itself has, to some extent, wave nature and therefore motion. thus time is not only a dimension of motion but also an ingredient of matter. Time is not an influence affecting things and relationships, but rather an essential element of things and relationships. The cosmos is not so much a thing in motion as a thing of motion, a complex interplay of energies and paces."

"All great experience has a guarded entrance and a windowless facade."

"Among the many good reasons for making plans is the fact that the future can be enjoyed as fully as the present or the past. But most of what we enjoy, we enjoy specifically. A contemplated week in Paris, pleasant as a generalized concept, becomes much more pleasant when we know that it will include a visit to the Sainte-Chapelle, afternoons at the Louvre and Cluny, a splurge, a stroll on the Ile St. Louis, an evening at the Opera preceded by cocktails at the caf‚ of the same name and followed by onion soup near the old site of Les Halles, a morning Metro-ride to the Jardin des Plantes or the Vincennes Zoo. In this way the projected days become a delightful union of the real and the ideal; and the future, huge yet as transparent and inconsequential as vacant sky, takes on dozens of meaningful shapes. People suspect that planning will shackle them; but, with moderation, this is almost never the case. If you make plans, you may always diverge from them?committing what is itself a pleasant act of freedom. If you do not make plans, you leave the future an empty field of chance, useless to the present, forfeit to your own unpredictable moods. You insult time, and it turns away from you a face that could have been full of solace. And you imply to yourself that the two other"

"An action is vulgar when it is at once ignorant, harmful, and popular."

"As we grow older, our youth silently expands in time, while old age contracts."

"At pains to define liberty, that most resolute of indefinables, our minds fall back on spatial images; on birds, sailboats, and mountains; the untethered balloon, the blue sky, the nude figure."

"Because it is a radical act of freedom, creative achievement is a heroic process that requires, in all its permutations, specific strengths of character."

"Because we believe that one moment is more or less like the next, we lose touch with the essential urgency of the present, the fact that each passing moment is the one moment for the practice of freedom."

"Bold people can only with great effort be patient and must admonish themselves to be merciful. But timid people, though they may pride themselves on their patience and mercy, have not the slightest idea what either word means."

"By nature we forgive and forget a whole zoo of petty injuries; but we seldom forget, and have trouble forgiving, being lied to. In a curious sense, an injury is once, a lie forever."

"Creativity is a form of power, and all power should be subject to ethical oversight. In a similar sense, we cannot realize our creative powers without observing ethical norms like integrity, courage and self-knowledge."

"Creativity is dangerous. We cannot open ourselves to new insight without endangering the security of our prior assumptions. We cannot propose new ideas without risking disapproval and rejection? its pleasure is not the comfort of the safe harbor, but the thrill of the reaching sail."

"Each passing moment is the one moment for the practice of freedom."

"Excellence of mind itself, rightly conceived, is expertise in beauty; creativity is wise love."

"Excessive sensitivity to the demands of the present is the root of impotence... the present abhors precedents and is always trying to deny or obfuscate the existence of pattern... The person who characteristically obeys the serves the present becomes a kind of temporal microorganism and is, paradoxically, more likely than any other to follow fixed and slavish channels of behavior."

"Fast drivers can see no further than slow drivers, but they must look further down the road to time their reactions safely. Similarly, people with great projects afoot habitually look further and more clearly into the future than people who are mired in day-to-day concerns."

"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."

"For all the psychological and physiological conditions which test integrity - fear, desire, hunger, fatigue, disaffection, anger, pain - have little reality in memory or anticipation but rather exist for the most part in the narrow immediacy of the present. The person of integrity is a continuous person, for whom the present is a point on a line drawn out of memory and into the willed future, rather than an unpredicted and unwieldy configuration which seems to operate under its own law. The person of integrity is no superman; he will be, from time to time, defeated, frustrated, embarrassed and completely surprised. but neither is he the common and regular dupe of circumstance, compelled (like some tourist with a pocket dictionary) to consult conscience and emotion at each new turn of events."

"Free men and women... can think across time, viewing their own lives, inclusive of past, present, and future, as architectural wholes, static in mental space. They can therefore see, as others cannot, the cracks and buttresses of repeated action, the points of stress, the established framework. They are not perfect; but they are less imperfect than we by a full dimension of being."

"Great drama, like the energy implicit in every atom, is eternally around and within us, but liberated only by coincidence, ceremony, creativity, periods reaching completion, pressures reaching the bursting point, and the simple but painful cultivation of awareness."

"Happiness may well consist primarily of an attitude toward time."

"Human beings tend to love authorities and fear freedom."

"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."

"In a railroad car at nightfall, when the natural light outside has diminished until it is even with the artificial light inside, the passenger facing forward sees in his window two images at once: the dim landscape rushing toward him out of a pit of darkness, and the interior of the car, reflected with its more or less motionless occupants. At this hour most passengers unconsciously give allegiance to one of these two polarities of vision; and the individual momentarily aware of both may be struck by the profound, almost tragic duality between outer and inner worlds, between the rush of experience and the immobility of awareness."

"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."

"In the landscape of time, there are few locations less comfortable than that of one who waits for some person or event to arrive at some unknown moment in the future. As such we are hooked onto the future and dangle helplessly on lines of doubt, anxiety or expectation. The best way to wait is not to wait."

"Individuals we consider happy commonly seem complete in the present and we see them constantly in their wholeness: attentive, cheerful, open rather than closed to events, integral in the moment rather than distended across time by regret or anxiety."

"It is essential that the larger self, which stretches across decades, should frequently make contact with the smaller self, which labors from hour to hour. Memory should be exercised consciously in bringing about these encounters. The most profound function of memory is the reflex of identity."

"Just as one sends a letter from place to place, one may send, to one?s self or others, letters through time. Photographs, mementos, and journal entries are letters we send into the future; and by writing or speaking about events gone by we can communicate to some extent with the past. To do this regularly and intelligently is to expand our being in time."

"Like gravity, beauty is a force whose existence is inferred from its apparent effects."

"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."

"Like students of art who walk around a great statue, seeing parts and aspects of it from each position, but never the whole, we must walk mentally around time, using a variety of approaches, a pandemonium of metaphor."

"Lovers who plod mechanically through a series of unsuccessful relationships are good examples of the failure to understand the dimensionality of time. At the beginning of each affair or marriage they forget what sickened them about the last; in the middle they forget what brought them into it; and at the end they fail to perceive the causal relationship between their initial desire, their half-hearted participation, and their inevitable failure. Like adding machines they return faithfully to zero after each sum and are ready for the next transaction. People who chronically fail to complete projects are subject to similarly frustrating revolutions of will. This is not to say that an awareness of our emotional cyclicality will be a sure cure for our characteristic problems. But it is certainly a first step?in fact the only first step. Unconscious enslavement is enslavement doubled."