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10 July 2008 @ 08:55 am
Disch on Death, Art, Genius, and More  
In the mid-'80s, I collected science fiction, fantasy and horror quotes with the thought that I'd eventually assemble them into our field's version of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Though I pitched that book to several publishers back then, I never succeeded in placing it, and abandoned the idea. (Besides, now that Gary Westfahl has published his wonderful Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits, there's no need for my book anyway.)

As part of my mourning for Tom Disch, I paged through those old quotes to find the ones I'd culled from the works of his I'd read up until that time. Since you might be mourning, too, I thought I'd share some of them, so that we can collectively remember what we've lost.

I'd filed these first quotes under the category of Death:

Death, it must be allowed, is a natural metaphor for the act of love; it represents the loss of one's ultimate cherry.
"Getting into Death"

It cannot be that the earth is man's only abiding place! It cannot be that our life is a mere bubble cast up by eternity to float a moment on its waves and then sink back into nothingness! Else why is it that the glorious aspirations which leap like angels from the temple of our heart are forever wandering unsatisfied? Why should the radiant brightness of human beauty be so swiftly taken from us leaving the thousand streams of our affections to flow back in alpine torrents upon our hearts? There must be a realm, somewhere, where the rainbow never fades!
"Feather from the Wings of an Angel"

Death (she believed) like sex, requires circumspection: a fond unspoken understanding, a few unavoidable tears, and then a stoic and polite silence.
"Getting into Death"

"Maybe if I'd written poetry all along, instead of murder mysteries, I might be able to face my own death now with some dignity. I'm jaded. I've filled myself with cheap candy, and now that it's dinnertime I have no appetite."
"Getting into Death"

Against the glory of dying young, any living thirty-year-old must appear as drab as the fashions of five years ago.
"Getting into Death"

She had arrived at what she thought would have to be her last word on the subject of death, and it was as astonishing in its way as the detective's announcement, in the last chapter of the book, that none of the suspects were guilty.
It was just this: Death is a social experience; an exchange; not a relationship in itself, but the medium in which relationships may exist; not as friends or a lover, but the room in which all friends and lovers meet.
"Getting into Death"

What graveyards are for people—horrible, creepy places that any reasonable individual tries to stay away from—the City Dump is for appliances and machines of every description.
"The Brave Little Toaster"


This one was particularly poignant—

I thought by killing myself I'd just slip away unnoticed, as I might have left a party without saying goodbye to my hosts.
The Businessman


—because there's no way that Tom could, or should, slip away unnoticed.



The following quotes were culled from other categories, such Art, Gods, and Justice, and further demonstrate Tom's poetry and wit, which will be missed:

No one sees his own culture declining till around the age of forty, and then everyone does.
"Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire"

I don't care if I wet my bed, but I don't want my brains to go soft.
334

Immortality, after all, is just a frame of mind.
"The Pressure of Time"

Every lout learns at some point in his life to make his silences seem weighty with unspoken meaning.
"Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire"

Art is the way we delay our departure, but it is no way to start the day.
The Puppies of Terra

The artist, when he makes his art, shares a common fate with Rousseauistic man; he begins free and ends in chains.
"The Master of the Milford Altarpiece"

Always we wake to our metamorphosed condition, to the awareness that the strange body in the bed is our own. Women awake and discover, after centuries of dreaming, that they are men. Worms awaken into birds and music bursts from their astonished throats. An elderly businessman awakes and knows himself to be a plane tree: His leaves reach for the light and swell with growth. Often the amazement is too much to bear, and our awakening is brief. We slip back into being the rudimentary creatures that we were. We become less, and sleep resumes its old sovereignty, until once more, without warning, we awaken.
"The Grown-Up"

Humility is a lesson that it is difficult for the young to learn.
"Assassin & Son"

Had I been free in my childhood, I would almost certainly have been wretched.
The Puppies of Terra

Eleven-year-olds are jailbirds one and all. They don't have freedom of speech or freedom of religion. All they've got is the distant hope of parole.
The Businessman

It seemed monstrous that he, who was such a success ingratiating himself with the mothers of his friends, should not have a mother of his own.
On Wings of Song

People who can't diet four days running shouldn't attempt hunger strikes.
Camp Concentration

I discovered long ago that one needn't actually drink in order to have the satisfaction of behaving outrageously.
"The Man Who Had No Idea"

She regarded college in much the same way her father looked on the afterlife—a place she knew of by hearsay, but dud not intend to go.
The Businessman

A dog won't learn arithmetic, no matter who his teacher is.
On Wings of Song

School is a prison for the every good reason that all children are criminals.
On Wings of Song

Only the elevator that takes you down to Hell can take you up again.
"Josie and the Elevator"

Thirty is a bad birthday when you've got nothing to show for it. By then the old excuses are wearing pretty thin. A failure at thirty is likely to be a failure the rest of his life, and he knows it. But the worst of it isn't the embarrassment, which may even do some good in small dosages; the worst of it is the way it works its way into the cells of your body, like asbestos. You live in the constant stink of your own fear, waiting for the next major catastrophe: pyorrhea, an eviction notice, whatever. It's as though you've been bound, face to face, to some maggoty corpse as an object lesson in mortality.
On Wings of Song

I'm always pleased to meet people fatter than myself.
Camp Concentration

Democracy can be carried too far.
"Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire"

Friends never come to stand beside a gallows.
The Puppies of Terra

Though we may envy the success of our friends, we also require it. What kind of success would we be if our friends were failures?
"The Master of the Milford Altarpiece"

Genius, like the clap, is a social disease.
Camp Concentration

Heavy losers like to look like big spenders.
The Businessman

Ghosts only appear to people wired to receive them.
The Businessman

The gods, after all, are only human, and once their rage has been placated they are perfectly capable of actions of mercy and grace.
"The Vengeance of Hera"

What a convenience, after all, to pity our enemies. It spares us the larger effort of hate.
Camp Concentration

Cemeteries aren't supposed to be as pretty as all that. Who would bother going to heaven?
"Let Us Quickly Hasten to the Gate of Ivory"

There are books in paradise ... but no magazines.
The Businessman

Hell is a tape loop that keeps playing the same stupid tune over and over and over forever and ever and ever.
The Businessman

Hell, you see, is full of non-returnable bottles, which people throw from the windows of their apartments just for the satisfaction of hearing them smash.
"Josie and the Elevator"

Hell, you see, is exactly like the world we all live in, the only difference being that everyone you meet there is completely inconsiderate and rude.
"Josie and the Elevator"

People in hospitals live lives that are at once more dramatic and duller than, as a general rule, the lives of people elsewhere.
"Quincunx"

It is a rule, which all appliances must obey, that whenever human beings are observing them they must remain perfectly still.
"The Brave Little Toaster"

The Second Law of Developmental Mechanics is as follows: "If you want something you've got to take it. If you want it badly enough you will."
On Wings of Song

Innocence, like justice, is an absolute; it may be approached but never attained.
"The Asian Shore"

I don't believe in boredom. It's a euphemism for laziness. People do nothing, and then complain they're bored.
On Wings of Song

Flowers, as botanists well know, can only speak in verse. Daisies, being among the simplest flowers, characteristically employ a rough sort of octosyllabic doggerel, but more evolved species, especially those in the tropics, can produce sestinas, rondeaux, and villanelles of the highest order.
"The Brave Little Toaster"

One forgets, during one's own romances, that it is a curse to fall in love.
"The Joyce Shrager Story"

She knew, before he'd even entered, that she would fall in love with him—or with someone—just as starlings know, with annual infallibility, that they must begin to collect the straws that will become, with a bit of poking and prodding, their cozy little nests.
"An Italian Lesson"

A love affair isn't some goddamn work of art
334

You mustn't hold what I write against me. Poets can't be held responsible for what they say in their poems. We're all compulsive traitors, you know ... Treason is a necessary part of the job, the way that handling trashcans is a part of being a garbage man. Some poets go to a great deal of trouble to disguise their treacheries; my inclination is to be up-front and betray everyone right from the start.
"The Man Who Had No Idea"

Once they put you in prison, you're never entirely out of it again. It enters you and builds its walls within your heart.
On Wings of Song

There are no atheists in casinos.
The Businessman

Jobs are like going to church; it's nice once or twice a year to sing along and eat something and all that, but unless you really believe there's something holy going on, it gets to be a drag going in every single week.
"Emancipation"

The damned are forever blaming other people for the situation they are in.
The Businessman

She was of the widely held opinion that at the bottom everyone believed what she believed, if only they'd be honest with themselves.
The Businessman

The pornography of violence is seldom more pornographic than in those works of fiction in which nuclear holocaust is used as a background for a boy's adventure story, or, worse, as a pretext for fantasies of jingoistic, revanchist slaughter.
Twilight Zone book review column

A battle that isn't against all odds would hardly be a battle at all.
The Puppies of Terra

Wars aren't really very interesting, I think, unless you're a participant.
"The Apartment Next to the War"




If you have your own favorite Disch quotes, please feel free to share them here.
 
 
 
John Crowleycrowleycrow on July 11th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
Two from "Toaster" --

"Never put your plug in a strange socket!" the book warns all little appliances. "And if you have any doubt about the voltage of the current where you are living, ask a major appliance."

And -- too poignant now and having lost for now its tart overtones:

"We need people to take care of. And we need people to take care of us. Soon, one by one, we'll all wear out, and no one will fix us becasue no one will know what has happened."
scottedelman: Clarionscottedelman on July 11th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
That second is another one of those quotes which in retrospect make the skin tingle.