A Gallery of Commonplaces

"Pretty Ladies" by Eric Fischl

“He had a lot of funny stories to tell her about their old Paris chums. all of them in loony bins or sanitariums, the ones who weren’t on Nembutal.
‘I used to look for my friends in the society columns,’ he intended to say tonight. ‘Now I look for them on the barbituary page.'”
— Dawn Powell, “Every Day is Ladies Day”

“Her smile, not permanent, expressed many complex feelings and was the cause of much debate. Her smile is “‘ know what’s coming’; her smile is ‘I love to acquiesce’; her smile is ‘On the verge of tears’; and so on” — Adam Golaski, Color Plates

“The first non-farmers were probably craftsmen producing pottery, tools and other specialized items for the community. But ruing groups, probably religious at first and then political rapidly took over the distribution functions. Societies emerged with large administrative, religious and military elites able to enforce the collection of food from peasant farmers and organize its distribution to other parts of society. In parallel, unequal ownership of land, and therefore of food, rapidly changed.
In its broadest sense human history in the 8,000 years or so since the emergence of settled agricultural societies has been about the acquisition and distribution of the surplus food production and the uses to which it has been put.”
— Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World

Madame Berthe Bady by Toulouse-Lautrec

“I am trying to make the past interesting to you. I am trying to make my own life seem real to you. My father was unable to make his own life seem real to me. When, finally, the important question about my father arose: is my life like my father’s, I found no answer. One day–how can you imagine this?–you’ll ask the same of my life. I want you to be able to picture my life. To lay that picture upon yours, two texts on tissue paper. When you come to ask the question, you will see me as very old, a skull above my shoulder as clear a death-portent as any death-portent could be, and you’ll wonder, how could that man have been a man? However could he have gone to work and married and had a son? You’ll wonder, have I been different enough to avoid his fate?” — Adam Goalaski, Color Plates

“Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use. So that in effect there was never the less left for others because of his enclosure for himself. For he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draft, who had a whole river of the same water left to him to quench his thirst; and the case of land and water, where there is enough of both, is perfectly the same.”
— John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government

“He could pass for thirty-five as long as no one that age was around.”
— Dawn Powell, “Every Day is Ladies Day”

The Policeman's Daughter by Paula Rego

“Some of the West’s best writers, from Dostoevsky and Conrad and Malraux to Mary McCarthy, Heinrich Boll, Doris Lessing, Alberto Moravia, Nadine Gordimer, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, have tried to read the minds of what Don DeLillo in Mao II called “men in small rooms.” All they’ve done is make those minds seem almost as interesting as their own, which of course they aren’t. The kamikazes of Kingdom Come – the skyjackers, land miners, thumb-screwers, militiaman, death squads, and ethnic cleansers; the bombers of department stores, greengrocers, and abortion clinics; the Pol Pots, Shining Paths, and Talibans – have stupefied themselves. To imagine otherwise is to be as ethically idiotic as Karlheinz Stockhausen, the composer who told reporters in Hamburg on September 16 that the destruction of the World Trade Center was ‘the greatest work of art ever.’” — John Leonard, Reading for My Life

In a role reversal, the dramatis personae
are left to the end of the book. Nameless
shadows and no signifiers, no different
from what you ear each day while
strolling around the pier, where the orphans,
also nameless, have discovered a new racket:
inspirational sayings carved into clam shells.
— Maureen Thorson, Applies to Oranges

“[on common land] the rational heardsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his heard. And another; and another … But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational heardsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his heard without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”
— Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”

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