When Nietzsche Wept, Yalom, Irvin D

You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?

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She was a woman of uncommon beauty: powerful forehead, strong, sculpted chin, bright blue eyes, full and sensuous lips, and carelessly brushed silver-blond hair gathered lackadaisically in a high bun, exposing her ears and her long, graceful neck. He noticed with particular pleasure the wisps of hair that had escaped the gathering bun and stretched out recklessly in every direction.

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“He often terms himself a ‘posthumous philosopher’—a philosopher for whom the world isn’t yet ready. In fact, the new book he is planning begins with that theme—a prophet, Zarathustra, bursting with wisdom, decides to enlighten the people. But no one understands his words. They aren’t ready for him, and the prophet, realizing that he’s come too soon, returns to his solitude.”

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Can I have discovered a psychological equivalent of pharmacologic replacement therapy? A benign drug like valerian can replace a more dangerous one like morphine.

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And both women frightened him: each dangerous, but in different ways. This Lou Salomé frightened him because of her power—of what she might do to him. Bertha frightened him because of her submissiveness—because of what he might do to her.

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“Despair is not a medical symptom, Fraulein; it is vague, imprecise. Each of Anna O.’s symptoms involved some discrete part of her body; each was caused by the discharge of intracerebral excitation through some neural causeway. Insofar as you’ve described it, your friend’s despair is entirely ideational. No treatment approach exists for such a condition.”

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“Doctor Breuer, this hour has been too short. I am greedy and desire more of your time. May I walk with you back to your hotel?” The statement struck Breuer as bold, masculine; yet from her lips it seemed right, unaffected—the natural way people should talk and live. If a woman enjoys a man’s company, why shouldn’t she take his arm and ask to walk with him? Yet what other woman he knew would have uttered those words? This was a different sort of woman. This woman was free!

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“Of course, but”—and she drew her arm from his, to stand facing him, self-enclosed, forceful as a man—“to me, the word ‘duty’ is weighty and oppressive. I’ve pared down my duties to only one—to perpetuate my freedom. Marriage and its entourage of possession and jealousy enslave the spirit. They will never have dominion over me. I hope, Doctor Breuer, the time will come when neither men nor women are tyrannized by each other’s frailties.” She turned with all the assurance of her arrival. “Auf Wiedersehen. Till our next meeting—in Vienna.”

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He noted that each of these states of mind had its own emotional coloring: the inflated one had sharp corners—a nastiness and irritability—as well as a loftiness and loneliness. The other state, in contrast, felt round, soft, and accepting.

These were definite, identifiable emotions, Breuer thought, but they were also modest emotions. What about more powerful emotions and the states of mind that brew them? Might there be a way to control those stronger emotions? Might that not lead to an effective psychological therapy?

He considered his own experience. His most labile states of mind involved women. There were times—today, ensconced in the fortress of his consulting room, was one of them—when he felt strong and safe. At such times, he saw women as they really were: struggling, aspiring creatures dealing with the endless pressing problems of everyday life; and he saw the reality of their breasts: clusters of mammary cells floating in lipoid pools. He knew about their leakages, dysmenorrheic problems, sciatica, and various irregular protrusions—prolapsed bladders and uteruses, and bulging blue hemorrhoids and varicosities.

But then there were other times—times of enchantment, of being captured by women who were larger than life, their breasts swelling into powerful, magical globes—when he was overcome by an extraordinary craving to merge with their bodies, to suckle at their nipples, to slip into their warmth and wetness. This state of mind could be overwhelming, could overturn an entire life—and had, in his work with Bertha, almost cost him everything he held dear.

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After ushering Fraulein Salomé into his office and motioning her toward a heavy black leather-upholstered chair, Breuer sat down in the chair next to her. He couldn’t help remarking, “I see you prefer to do things for yourself. Doesn’t that deprive men of the pleasure of serving you?”

“We both know that some of the services men provide are not necessarily good for women’s health!”

“Your future husband will need extensive retraining. The habits of a lifetime are not easily extinguished.”

“Marriage? No, not for me! I have told you. Oh, perhaps a part-time marriage—that might suit me, but nothing more binding.”

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God knows I have no idea about curing despair: I can’t cure my own.

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“Nietzsche is extraordinarily sensitive to issues of power. He would refuse to engage in any process that he perceives as surrendering his power to another. He is attracted in his philosophy to the pre-Socratic Greeks, especially to their concept of Agonis—the belief that one develops one’s natural gifts only through contest—and he is deeply distrustful of the motives of anyone who forgoes contest and claims to be altruistic. His mentor in these matters was Schopenhauer. No one desires, he believes, to help another: instead, people wish only to dominate and increase their own power. The few times when he surrendered his power to another, he’s ended up feeling devastated and enraged. It happened with Richard Wagner. I believe it is happening now with me.”

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But now, exposed to the power of her charm, he felt his strength slipping away. Her comment about her blush was remarkable: never in his life had he heard a woman, or anyone else for that matter, speak of social intercourse with such directness. And she was only twenty-one years old!

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“I was immediately attracted to Nietzsche. He’s not an imposing man physically—medium height, with a gentle voice and unblinking eyes that look inward rather than out, as if he were protecting some inner treasure. I didn’t know then that he is three-quarters blind. Still, there was something extraordinarily compelling about him. The first words he spoke to me were: ‘From what stars have we dropped down to each other here?’

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“But we are free-thinking idealists who reject socially imposed restrictions. We believe in our capability to create our own moral structure.”

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He urged me instead to join him in pursuit of the ideal relationship—passionate, chaste, intellectual, and nonmarital.

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To find dawns and golden possibilities, to love a rich, bold soul: everyone needs that, he thought, at least once in a lifetime.

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We talked about the relativity of good and evil, about the necessity to free oneself from public morality in order to live morally, about a freethinker’s religion. Nietzsche’s words seemed true: we had sibling brains—we could say so much to one another with half-words, half-sentences, mere gestures. Yet this paradise was spoiled, because all the while we were under the eye of his serpent sister—I could see her listening, always misunderstanding, scheming.”

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‘Don’t let my outbreaks of megalomania or wounded vanity bother you too much—and if I should one day happen to take my own life in some fit of passion, there wouldn’t be anything in that to worry about overmuch. What are my fantasies to you! . . . I came to this reasonable view of the situation after I had taken—from despair—an enormous dose of opium——’

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No, I was thinking, not of writing, but of reading these books. Oh, the endless labor of the intellectual—pouring all this knowledge into the brain through a three-millimeter aperture in the iris.

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“That was but my last stop,” Nietzsche said, sitting stiffly. “My whole life has become a journey, and I begin to feel that my only home, the only familiar place to which I always return, is my illness.”

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The joy of being observed ran so deep that Breuer believed the real pain of old age, bereavement, outliving one’s friends, was the absence of scrutiny—the horror of living an unobserved life.

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Vienna’s wind and wet gloom poisoned him, Nietzsche said. His nervous system cried out for sun and dry, still air.

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Before the end of his evaluation, Breuer obtained still another answer: Nietzsche had so little contact with other human beings that he spent an extraordinary amount of time in conversation with his own nervous system.

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“But surely”—and Nietzsche shook his clenched fists—“you must realize that there is no reality to any of your preoccupations! Your vision of Bertha, the halo of attraction and love that surround her—these don’t really exist. These poor phantasms are not part of numinal reality. All seeing is relative, and so is all knowing. We invent what we experience. And what we have invented, we can destroy.”

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“Ah, I know that dilemma,” said Nietzsche. “The most desirable woman is the most frightening one. And not, of course, because of what she is, but because of what we make of her. Very sad!”

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“I’ve always believed, Josef, that we are more in love with desire than with the desired!”

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“Ach, who could understand you better? At times I think I’m the most alone man in existence. And, like you, it has nothing to do with the presence of others—in fact, I hate others who rob me of my solitude and yet do not truly offer me company.”

“What do you mean, Friedrich? How do they not offer company?”

“By not holding dear the things I hold dear! Sometimes I gaze so far into life that I suddenly look around and see that no one has accompanied me, and that my sole companion is time.”

“I’m not sure if my aloneness is like yours. Perhaps I’ve never dared to enter it as deeply as you.”

Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud

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Pages that I folded…

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I took as my starting-point a saying of the poet-philosopher, Schiller, that ‘hunger and love are what moves the world’. [‘Die Weltweisen.’] Hunger could be taken to represent the instincts which aim at preserving the individual; while love strives after objects, and its chief function, favoured in every way by nature, is the preservation of the species.

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And now, I think, the meaning of the evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us. It must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle is what all life essentially consists of, and the evolution of civilization may therefore be simply described as the struggle for life of the human species.

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His aggressiveness is introjected, internalized; it is, in point of fact, sent back to where it came from—that is, it is directed towards his own ego. There it is taken over by a portion of the ego, which sets itself over against the rest of the ego as super-ego, and which now, in the form of ‘conscience’, is ready to put into action against the ego the same harsh aggressiveness that the ego would have liked to satisfy upon other, extraneous individuals. The tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subjected to it, is called by us the sense of guilt; it expresses itself as a need for punishment. Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual’s dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city.

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As long as things go well with a man, his conscience is lenient and lets the ego do all sorts of things; but when misfortune befalls him, he searches his soul, acknowledges his sinfulness, heightens the demands of his conscience, imposes abstinences on himself and punishes himself with penances.

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Thus I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation: for at bottom that is what they are all demanding—the wildest revolutionaries no less passionately than the most virtuous believers. The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.

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In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

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Pages that I folded…

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‘I’m scared, Myrt.’

‘Of what? When your time comes, it comes. And tears won’t save you’. She had observed that her mother had begun to shed a few. ‘When Homer died, I used up all the fear I had in me, and all the grief, too. If there’s somebody loose around here that wants to cut my throat, I wish him luck. What difference does it make? It’s all the same in eternity. Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity. So blow your nose.’

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Kenyon resembled neither of his parents physically; his crew-cut hair was hemp-coloured, and he was six feet tall and lanky, though hefty enough to have once rescued a pair of full-grown sheep by carrying them two miles through a blizzard – sturdy, strong, but cursed with a lanky boy’s lack of muscular coordination. This defect, aggravated by an inability to function without glasses, prevented him from taking more than a token part in those team sports that were the main occupation of most of the boys who might have been his friends.

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You are a man of extreme passion, a hungry man not quite sure where his appetite lies, a deeply frustrated man striving to project his individuality against a backdrop of rigid conformity. You exist in a half-word suspended between two superstructures, one self-expression and the other self-destruction. You are strong, but there is a flaw in your strength, and unless you learn to control it the flaw will prove to be stronger than your strength and defeat you. The flaw? Explosive emotional reaction out of all proportion to the occasion. Why? Why this unreasonable anger at the sight of others who are happy or content, this growing contempt for people and the desire to hurt them? All right, you think they’re fools, you despise them because their morals, their happiness is the source of your frustration and resentment. But there are dreadful enemies you carry within yourself – in time as destructive as bullets. Mercifully, a bullet kills its victim. This other bacteria, permitted to age, does not kill a man but leaves in its wake the hulk of a creature torn and twisted; there is still fire within his being but it is kept alive by casting upon it faggots of scorn and hate. He may successfully accumulate, but he does not accumulate success, for he is his own enemy and is kept from truly enjoying his achievements.

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There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin;
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of gipsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

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But neither Dick’s physique nor the inky gallery adorning it made as remarkable an impression as his face, which seemed to be composed of mismatching parts. It was as though his head had been halved like an apple, then put together a fraction off centre. Something of the kind had happened; the imperfectly aligned features were the outcome of a car collision in 1950 – an accident that left his long-jawed and narrow face tilted, the left side rather lower than the right, with the results that the lips were slightly aslant, the nose askew, and his eyes not only situated at uneven levels but of the uneven size, the left eye being truly serpentine, with a venomous, sickly-blue squint that although it was involuntarily acquired, seemed nevertheless to warn of bitter sediment at the bottom of his nature. But Perry told him, ‘The eye doesn’t matter. Because you have a wonderful smile. One of those smiles that really work.’ It was true that the tightening action of a smile contracted his face into its correct proportions, and made it possible to discern a less unnerving personality – an American-style ‘good kid’ with an outgrown crew cut, sane enough but not too bright.

The Social Conquest of Earth, Edward O. Wilson

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Pages that I folded…

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Studies have shown that given freedom to choose the setting of their homes or offices, people across cultures gravitate toward an environment that combines three features, intuitively understood by landscape architects and real estate entrepreneurs. They want to be on a height looking down, they prefer open savanna-like terrain with scattered trees and copses, and they want to be close to a body of water, such as a river, lake, or ocean.

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Picasso expressed the same idea summarily: “Art is the lie that helps us to see the truth.”

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Human beings are actors in a story. We are the growing point of an unfinished epic. The answer to the existential questions must lie in history, and that, of course, is the approach taken by the humanities. But conventional history by itself is truncated, in both its timeline and its perception of the human organism. History makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology.

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We are free as independent beings, but our decisions are not free of all the organic processes that created our personal brains and minds. Free will therefore appears to be ultimately biological.

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

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Siddhartha had begin to feel the seeds of discontent within him. He had begun to feel that the love of his father and mother, and also the love of his friend Govinda, would not make him happy, give him peace, satisfy and suffice him.

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Was Atman then not within him? Was not then the source within his own’s heart? One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking – a detour, error.

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Siddhartha had one single goal – to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow – to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought – that was his goal. When all the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desires were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self – the great secret!

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Govinda said: “We have learned much, Siddhartha. There still remains much to learn. We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.

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The Buddha went quietly on his way, lost in thought. His peaceful countenance was neither happy nor sad. He seemed to be smiling gently inwardly. With a secret smile, not unlike that of a healthy child, he walked along, peacefully, quietly. He wore his gown and walked along exactly like the other monks, but his face and his step, his peaceful downward glance, his peaceful downward-hanging hand, and every finger of his hand spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, sought nothing, imitated nothing, reflected a continuous quiet, an unfading light, an invulnerable peace.

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He did not seek reality; his goal was not on any other side. The world was beautiful when looked at in this way – without any seeking, so simple, so childlike. All this had always been present and he had never see it; he was never present. Now he was present and belonged to it. Through his eyes he saw light and shadows; through his mind he was aware of moon and stars.

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Listen, Kamala, when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is draw and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes the goal. That is what Siddhartha learned from the Samanas. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Nothing is caused by demons; there are no demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast.

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He, who was still a boy as regards love and was inclined to plunge to the depths of it blindly and insatiably, was taught by her that one cannot have pleasure without giving it, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every single part of the body has its secret which can give pleasure to once who can understand. She taught him that lovers should not separate from each other after making love without admiring each other, without being conquered as well as conquering, so that no feeling of satiation or desolation arises nor the horrid feeling of misusing or having been misused.

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Then he suddenly saw clearly that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing many things that were only a game, that he was quite cheerful and sometimes experienced pleasure, but that real life was flowing past him and did not touch him. Like a player who plays with his ball, he played with his business, with the people around him, watched them, derived amusement from them; but with his heart, with his real nature, he was not there. His real self wandered elsewhere, far away, wandered on and on invisibly and had nothing to do with his life.

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Maybe,” said Siddhartha wearily. “I am like you. You cannot love either, otherwise how could you practice love as an art? Perhaps people like us cannot love. Ordinary people can – that is their secret.

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A path lies before you which you are called to follow. The gods await you.

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But today he only saw one of the river’s secrets, one that gripped his soul. He saw that the water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new.

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The world, Govinda, is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, all sucklings have death within them, all dying people – eternal life. During deep meditation it is possible to dispel time, to see simultaneously all the past, present and future, and then everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman. Therefore, it seems to me that everything that exists is good – death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me. I learned through my body and soul that it was necessary for me to sin, that I needed lust, that I had to strive for property and experience nausea and the depths of despair in order to learn not to resist them, in order to learn to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of desired imaginary world, some imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it.

The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald

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Pages that I folded…

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It was a mood of intense appreciation, a sense that, for once, he was magnificently attuned to life and that everything about him was radiating a brightness and a glamour he might never know again.

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But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out of his brain while the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor. Each night he added to his fancies…these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded on a fairy’s wing.

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I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding towards him through the amorphous trees.

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There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.

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And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

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So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.