Thursday, June 30, 2011

Featured Passage

Henry James
This week's featured passage relates to Tuesday's discussion of Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind, but, unlike featured passages of other weeks, this one does not come directly from Tuesday's book.  Instead, this is a passage I couldn't stop thinking of when I was reading Absence of Mind.  It comes from Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran (a great book, by the way), from a chapter that details Henry James's reaction to World War I:

"[The quote] was from a letter [Henry James] wrote to Clare Sheridan, a friend whose husband--they were newly married--had gone to war and been killed.  'I am incapable of telling you not to repine and rebel,' he wrote, 'because I have so, to my cost, the imagination of all things, and because I am incapable of telling you not to feel.  Feel, feel, I say--feel for all you're worth, even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live, especially to live at this terrible pressure, and the only way to honour and celebrate these admirable beings who are our pride and our inspiration.'  In letters to friends, again and again he urges them to feel.  Feeling would stir up empathy and would remind them that life was worth living."


  1. I'd argue that faith is a more useful substance than truth because it restricts truth to the personal and individual experience. Altruism and many contentious questions are actually questions of faith. I don't think most people want to live in a world without absolute truth however.

  2. Altruism as a question of faith--meaning it's a question of what you believe about the motivation behind altruism, yes?

    It is kind of amazing--and Robinson's book highlighted this to me again--how much boils down to what you are willing to believe. And where do we get those notions in the first place?

    Anyhow, Matt, I know you're a fan of Varities of Religious Experience, which Robinson draws upon a few times. I'd like to know what you think of her use of W James's ideas.