If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

This is my style at its most pure, and, I must say, at its most joyous. Paradoxical though it surely sounds, I feel at my freest, my most exuberant, and my most creative when operating under a set of heavy self-imposed constraints. I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity—and that, of course, is why poetry, built on a foundation of constraints, is so central to this book. Translation, too, is a dense fabric of constraints—and thus, needless to say, the merging of translation with poetry gives rise to such a rich mesh of interlocking constraints that the mind goes a bit berserk in a mixture of frustration and delight.

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Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

…It is not just by some happy accident, for instance, that the poems inside chapters are never, ever broken across page boundaries.

The amount of influence exerted on my text by concerns of purely visual esthetics is incalculable—and by “my text”, I don’t merely mean how I wound up phrasing my ideas, I mean the ideas themselves. Content has been determined by considerations of elegant form so often that I couldn’t begin to imagine it.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

And this is not rare or exceptional; such spontaneous intrusions absolutely pervade this book, on every structural level. An idea will wind up getting drawn in that I could never have anticipated, even just moments before it arose—and yet from the moment it has arrived, it suddenly seems inevitable, it seems to have been fated to be included. Things come from out of left field and are drawn in and integrated and then become central. One’s current mundane life’s most accidental strands get woven deeply into the fabric of the artistic structure one is creating, and the whole is thereby imbued with a profound sense of time and place—even if, in some sense, the message is meant to be timeless and to transcend one’s own small life.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

I believe the convergence to a global tone is something that has to come from deep within, from long and arduous grappling with things one is only beginning to understand. This should be private, not public. These days, people crow of the virtues of constantly-evolving Web pages—drafts of ideas that are tossed up and then changed day by day in front of the eyes of “visitors”. To me, that has zero appeal. I want to hide my ideas until they are fully polished and unified. I don’t throw my drafts away—I keep them for myself; but the beauty of the process of publication is that those drafts are secret, that one’s creative tracks are covered. There is a kind of illusion thereby conveyed that this whole book just sprang up spontaneously.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The amount of rewriting that I do of every single sentence is hard, even for me, to believe.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

If one is lucky, one has the luxury of becoming totally immersed in an artistic project, letting almost all other things go by the wayside—family, friends, students, colleagues, food, bills, correspondence, neatness, books, music, movies, shopping, and sleep, to give a few examples. The house becomes a pigsty, the kids a bit starved for affection, weight goes down, friends wonder where you are… Fortunately, this monomaniacal state will be transitory, but it seems absolutely necessary, at least in my own case, for the emergence of that overarching frame of mind that allows the project to take on a true unity of purpose and style.

Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (1867)

We should enter into everyone’s situation. Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.*

(Princess Mary)

* To understand all is to forgive all.

Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (1867)

“She flatters me,” thought the princess, turning away and continuing to read. But Julie did not flatter her friend, the princess’ eyes—large, deep and luminous (it seemed as if at times there radiated from them shafts of warm light)–were so beautiful that very often in spite of the plainness of her face they gave her an attraction more powerful than that of beauty. But the princess never saw the beautiful expression of her own eyes—the look they had when she was not thinking of herself. As with everyone, her face assumed a forced unnatural expression as soon as she looked in a glass.

Neil Gaiman – The Sandman, vol. 7 (1994)

Destruction: Then she told me everyone can know everything Destiny knows. And more than that. She said we all not only could know everything. We do. We just tell ourselves we don’t to make it all more bearable.
Dream: It sounds unlikely.
Destruction: That was what I said to her. I said, if they do that, why do they keep wandering around and falling down manholes and tripping on banana skins? Why does it seem like none of us—Endless or mortal, ghost or god—knows what we’re doing?
Dream: And she said?
Destruction: I told you. She said everyone knows everything. We just pretend to ourselves we don’t. I never knew what to make of that.
Delirium: She is. Um. Right. Kind of. Not knowing everything is all that makes it okay, sometimes.

Neil Gaiman – The Sandman, vol. 7 (1994)

Delirium: I like airplanes. I like anywhere that isn’t a proper place. I like in-betweens.

Neil Gaiman – The Sandman, vol. 7 (1994)

Delirium: Have you ever spent days and days and days making up flavors of ice cream that no one’s ever eaten before? Like chicken and telephone ice cream?
Dream: No.

Delirium: What’s a false move? is it very different from a real one? Green mouse ice cream was the worst. I didn’t like that at all.