J. M. Coetzee quotes

  • (I)f we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Simple #Generosity #Guilt

  • Let me say it openly: we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty, and killing which rivals anything the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end, self-regenerating, bringing rabbits, rats, poultry, livestock ceaselessly into the world for the purpose of killing them.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Self #Holocaust #Rabbits

  • When all else fails, philosophize.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Failing

  • But he cannot see a connection between the end of yearning and the end of poetry. Is that what growing up amounts to: growing out of yearning, of passion, of all intensities of the soul?
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Growing Up #Passion #Soul

  • We must cultivate, all of us, a certain ignorance, a certain blindness, or society will not be tolerable.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Ignorance #Certain #Blindness

  • From one seed a whole handful: that was what it meant to say the bounty of the earth.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Earth

  • A book should be an axe to chop open the frozen sea inside us.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Book #Sea #Frozen

  • There seemed nothing to do but live.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

  • Because a women's beauty does not belong to her alone. It is a part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Doe #World

  • The masters of information have forgotten about poetry, where words may have a meaning quite different from what the lexicon says, where the metaphoric spark is always one jump ahead of the decoding function, where another, unforeseen reading is always possible.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Reading #Sparks #Different

  • Restoration is a skilled profession. You might even call it an art in its own right, except that it is frowned on to be original. First rule of restoration: follow the intention of the artist. Never try to improve on him.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Art #Trying #Restoration

  • One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Night #Cities #Pyramids

  • Become major, Paul. Live like a hero. That's what the classics teach us. Be a main character. Otherwise what is life for?
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Life #Hero #Character

  • Pain is truth; all else is subject to doubt.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Pain #Doubt #Subjects

  • I don't think we are ready to die, any of us, not without being escorted.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Thinking #Ready

  • [Hariharan is] an outstanding writer.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Outstanding

  • I say that I represent this movement because my intellectual allegiances are clearly European, not African.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Europe #Intellectual #Movement

  • I see no marks of Wordsworths style of writing or style of thinking in my own work, yet Wordsworth is a constant presence when I write about human beings and their relations to the natural world.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Writing #Thinking #Style

  • My response, a dubious and hesitant one, is that it has been and may continue to be, in the time that is left to me, more productive to live out the question than to try to answer it in abstract terms.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Trying #Dubious #Answers

  • If it is indeed impossible - or at least very difficult - to inhabit the consciousness of an animal, then in writing about animals there is a temptation to project upon them feelings and thoughts that may belong only to our own human mind and heart.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Writing #Heart #Animal

  • In order to be cruel we have to close our hearts to the suffering of the other.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Heart #Order #Suffering

  • My existence from day to day has become a matter of averting my eyes, of cringing. Death is the only truth left. Death is what I cannot bear to think. At every moment when I am thinking of something else, I am not thinking death, am not thinking the truth.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Eye #Thinking #Matter

  • No, Paul, I couldn't care less if you tell me made-up stories. Our lies reveal as much about us as our truths.' (Said to Paul by Elizabeth Costello, the interloping novelist-angel-inner voice).
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Lying #Angel #Voice

  • Truth is not spoken in anger. Truth is spoken, if it ever comes to be spoken, in love. The gaze of love is not deluded. It sees what is best in the beloved even when what is best in the beloved finds it hard to emerge into the light.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Love Is #Light #Beloved

  • There are works of literature whose influence is strong but indirect because it is mediated through the whole of the culture rather than immediately through imitation. Wordsworth is the case that comes to mind.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Strong #Mind #Culture

  • The writers who have the deepest influence on one are those one reads in ones more impressionable, early life, and often it is the more youthful works of those writers that leave the deepest imprint.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Influence #Impressionable

  • Speaking the words he had been taught, directing them no longer upward but to the earth on which he knelt, he prayed: 'For what we are about to receive make us truly thankful.' ... he... felt his heart suddenly flow over with thankfulness... like a gush of warm water... All that remains is to live here quietly for the rest of my life, eating food that my own labour has made the earth to yield. All that remains is to be a tender of the soil.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Heart #Garden #Yield

  • He even knew the reason why: because enough men had gone off to war saying the time for gardening was when the war was over; whereas there must be men to stay behind and keep gardening alive, or at least the idea of gardening; because once that cord was broken, the earth would grow hard and forget her children. That was why.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Children #War #Men

  • Denunciations of the manipulativeness of advertisers can unfortunately all too easily be turned on their heads into denunciations of the gullibility of consumers. Both are forms of scapegoating, neither accomplishes anything.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Advertising #Form #Accomplish

  • We are not by nature cruel.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

  • Nothing is worse than what we can imagine.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Imagination #Imagine

  • All creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Memories #Justice #World

  • I know somewhat too much; and from this knowledge, once one has been infected, there seems to be no recovering.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Knowledge #Too Much #Recovering

  • Long visits don't make for good friends.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Good Friend #Long

  • Deprived of human intercourse, I inevitably overvalue the imagination and expect it to make the mundane glow with an aura of self-transcendence. Yet why these glorious sunsets, I ask myself, if nature does not speak to us with tongues of fire.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Sunset #Fire #Self

  • The modern state appeals to morality, to religion, and to natural law as the ideological foundation of its existence. At the same time it is prepared to infringe any or all of these in the interest of self-preservation.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Self #Law #Foundation

  • Just as we bemoan the passing away of the Great Novel, a great novelist is likely to emerge, perhaps even from Denmark or Switzerland, to prove us wrong.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Passing Away #Switzerland #Novelists

  • What is miraculous about the past is that we have succeeded--God knows how--in making thousands and millions of individual human beings, lock well enought into one another to give us what looks like a common past, a shared story.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Past #Giving #Locks

  • Erasmus dramatizes a well-established political position: that of the fool who claims license to criticize all and sundry without reprisal, since his madness defines him as not fully a person and therefore not a political being with political desires and ambitions. The Praise of Folly, therefore sketches the possibility of a position for the critic of the scene of political rivalry, a position not simply impartial between the rivals but also, by self-definition, off the stage of rivalry altogether.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Ambition #Self #Political

  • It is not, then, in the content or substance of folly that its difference from truth lies, but in where it comes from. It comes not from 'the wise man's mouth' but from the mouth of the subject assumed not to know and speak the truth.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Wise #Lying #Men

  • As during the time of kings it would have been naive to think that the king's firstborn son would be the fittest to rule, so in our time it is naive to think that the democratically elected ruler will be the fittest. The rule of succession is not a formula for identifying the best ruler, it is a formula for conferring legitimacy on someone or other and thus forestalling civil conflict.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Kings #Son #Thinking

  • Machiavelli says that if as a ruler you accept that your every action must pass moral scrutiny, you will without fail be defeated by an opponent who submits to no such moral test. To hold on to power, you have not only to master the crafts of deception and treachery but to be prepared to use them where necessary.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Deception #Use #Crafts

  • The end of confession is to tell the truth to and for oneself.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Telling The Truth #Confession #Ends

  • If I, this mortal shell, am going to die, let me at least live on through my creations.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Shells #Creation #Let Me

  • Unbelief is a belief.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Belief #Unbelief

  • I must not fall asleep in the middle of my life. Out of the blankness that surrounds me I must pluck the incident after incident after incident whose little explosions keep me going.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Life #Fall #Littles

  • Pleasure is hard to come by, but pain is everywhere these days, I must learn to subsist on it.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Pain #Pleasure #These Days

  • Should philosophers be expected to change the world? Such an expectation seems to me extravagant. Marx himself didn't change the world: he reinterpreted it, then other people changed it.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Philosophy #People #Expectations

  • Reason is simply a vast tautology.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Reason #Tautology

  • It is a world of words that creates a world of things.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #World

  • I am spoken to not in words, which come to me quaint and veiled, but in signs, in conformations of face and hands, in postures of shoulders and feet, in nuances of tune and tone, in gaps and absences whose grammar has never been recorded.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Hands #Feet #Tunes

  • The barbarians come out at night.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Night #Barbarians

  • Artists no longer starve in garrets. Some people may think this is not wholly a good thing, that being an artist has become too comfortable, at least in the West. I'm not sure I agree. It's a mark of civilization to encourage the arts and the life of the mind.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Art #Thinking #Civilization

  • Can desire grow out of admiration, or are the two quite distinct species? What would it be like to lie side by side, naked, breast to breast, with a woman one principally admires?
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Lying #Two #Desire

  • If you have reservations about the system and want to change it, the democratic argument goes, do so within the system: put yourself forward as a candidate for political office, subject yourself to the scrutiny and the vote of fellow citizens. Democracy does not allow for politics outside the democratic system. In this sense, democracy is totalitarian.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Office #Political #Democracy

  • The devil is everywhere under the skin of things, searching for a way into the light.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Light #Skins #Devil

  • You think you know what is just and what is not. I understand. We all think we know." I had no doubt, myself, then, that at each moment each one of us, man, woman, child, perhaps even the poor old horse turning the mill-wheel, knew what was just: all creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice. "But we live in a world of laws," I said to my poor prisoner, "a world of the second-best. There is nothing we can do about that. We are fallen creatures. All we can do is to uphold the laws, all of us, without allowing the memory of justice to fade.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Horse #Memories #Children

  • Unimaginable perhaps; but the unimaginable is there to be imagined.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

  • But it is the knowledge of how contingent my unease is, how dependent on a baby that wails beneath my window one day and does not wail the next, that brings the worst shame to me, the greatest indifference to annihilation. I know somewhat too much; and from this knowledge, once one has been infected, there seems to be no recovering. I ought never to have taken my lantern to see what was going on in the hut by the granary. On the other hand, there was no way, once I had picked up the lantern, for me to put it down again. The knot loops in upon itself; I cannot find the end.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Baby #Taken #Hands

  • It’s admirable, what you do, what she does, but to me animal-welfare people are a bit like Christians of a certain kind. Everyone is so cheerful and well-intentioned that after a while you itch to go off and do some raping and pillaging. Or to kick a cat.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Christian #Cat #Animal

  • For himself, then. For his idea of the world, a world in which men do not use shovels to beat corpses into a more convenient shape for processing.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Men #Ideas #Use

  • His mind has become a refuge for old thoughts, idle, indigent, with nowhere else to go. He ought to chase them out, sweep the premises clean. But he does not care to do so, or does not care enough"(72).
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Mind #Doe #Care

  • He would not mind hearing Petrus's story one day. But preferably not reduced to English. More and more he is convinced that English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa. Stretches of English code whole sentences long have thickened, lost their articulations, their articulateness, their articulatedness. Like a dinosaur expiring and settling in the mud, the language has stiffened. Pressed into the mold of English, Petrus's story would come out arthritic, bygone"(117).
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Long #Mind #One Day

  • Scapegoating worked in practice while it still had religious powers behind it. You loaded the sins of the city on to the goat’s back and drove it out, and the city was cleansed. It worked because everyone knew how to read the ritual, including the gods. Then the gods died, and all of a sudden you had to cleanse the city without divine help. Real actions were demanded instead of symbolism The censor was born, in the Roman sense. Watchfulness became the watchword: the watchfulness of all over all. Purgation was replaced by the purge.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Religious #Real #Practice

  • You are going to end up as one of those sad old men who poke around in rubbish bins.” “I’m going to end up in a hole in the ground... And so are you. So are we all.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Men #Rubbish #Holes

  • Music expresses feeling, that is to say, gives shape and habitation to feeling, not in space but in time. To the extent that music has a history that is more than a history of its formal evolution, our feelings must have a history too. Perhaps certain qualities of feeling that found expression in music can be recorded by being notated on paper, have become so remote that we can no longer inhabit them as feelings, can get a grasp of them only after long training in the history and philosophy of music, the philosophical history of music, the history of music as a history of the feeling soul.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Philosophy #Philosophical #Space

  • In a world of chance is there a better and a worse? We yield to a stranger's embrace or give ourselves to the waves; for the blink of an eyelid our vigilance relaxes; we are asleep; and when we awake, we have lost the direction of our lives. What are these blinks of an eyelid, against which the only defence is an eternal and inhuman wakefulness? Might they not be the cracks and chinks through which another voice, other voices, speak in our lives? By what right do we close our ears to them? (Susan Barton)
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Voice #Yield #Giving

  • Sleep is no longer a healing bath, a recuperation of vital forces, but an oblivion, a nightly brush with annihilation.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Healing #Sleep #Baths

  • I am not the we of anyone
    -- J. M. Coetzee

  • Words are coin. Words alienate. Language is no medium for desire. Desire is rapture, not exchange.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Desire #Coins #Language

  • She gives him what he can only call a sweet smile. 'So you are determined to go on being bad. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know. I promise, no one will ask you to change.
    -- J. M. Coetzee

    #Sweet #Giving #Mad