Thursday, June 25, 2009

Famous (and not so) Quotations

It is dawning on me that my new blog is a venue where I can express many aspects of my life, all in one convenient location. One of my favorite things to do is collect quotations, which I have been doing for years. I have a Quotes Database with well over 10,000 quotes, on everything from Life Magazine brassiere ads to Marilyn Yalom on breasts and sexuality. And Freud. And stuff that has nothing to do with sexuality, at least not directly (see Freud). Like, especially, Art. Architecture, Islamic and otherwise. Sex (did I already mention sex?). And other stuff. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Paul Valery, the French writer and philosopher who was "friends" with Rimbaud, one of my other favorite writers. The following quote is from Valery's essay, "Man and the Seashell," in which the protagonist picks up a shell on the beach and, in examining it closely, glimpses the layers of his own ignorance. I have used this quote extensively, especially when I was teaching art history at two New England colleges. For me, an acknowledgment of our ignorance is the beginning of humility, a necessary precursor to leading a spiritual, attuned life. Here's the quote: 

Ignorance is a treasure of infinite price that most men squander, when they should cherish its least fragments; some ruin it by educating themselves, others, unable to so much as conceive of making use of it, let it waste away.  Quite on the contrary, we should search for it assiduously  in what we think we know best.  Leaf through a dictionary or try to make one, and you will find that every word covers and masks a well so bottomless that the questions you toss into it arouse no more than an echo.

Paul ValĂ©ry

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