Seriously, reviews are coming, but I must blog about what I want to write about, or else I won’t blog at all!
John Green, a YA author and Youtube vlogger, posted a video that I want you to watch.
For those of you who didn’t watch it, he’s talking about a quote from one of his books being miscontextualized. “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” the main character from An Abundance of Katherines says in the beginning of the book. The entire book, really, is him realizing that that kind of thinking is pretty silly, but the quote has been floating around the internet as some sort of Noble Truth. Yet Green isn’t being misquoted, because he did write that. Instead he is being miscontextualized, which he argues, and I agree, happens whenever you extract a quote or excerpt from, well, anything.
I often encounter this problem when I want to use a quote to illustrate beautiful or meaningful prose in a review. I know exactly which part made me swoon, but when I go back to look at it, I can’t use it! The words that I found so breath-taking are, in isolation, boring. Or perhaps they still have meaning, but it is different from the contextual meaning.
John Green suggests, then, that these quotes we pick say more about ourselves than the author. I kind of think this is obvious, and it’s his worries as an author that people will misunderstand him* that prompted him to say it explicitly. I’ve been wanting a tattoo for a long time and I know I want a literary quote, so I tend to look at quotes through that lens. Does this say so much about me that I want it on my body forever? Maybe that’s why I feel Green’s suggestion is obviously true!
*as well as his fears that technology and the internet are affecting our brains in negative ways, which is a whole other thing that I don’t quite agree with but is off-topic.
I think there are different kinds of beautiful quotes. Ones that only work in context, those that are more powerful when taken in isolation, and those that work in both settings. In my vast and undeniably superior experience, most quotes (at least the ones I like best) are in category one, some of in category three, and few are in the second. So, what are my favorite quotes and what do they say about me?
“I did not know I was so empty, to be so full.” – Peter S. Beagle from the Last Unicorn, a book that is full of the last kind of quote, beautiful in context and without. This is one of the best and something I could easily tattoo on myself, except one of my friends beat me to it. *sigh*
“At long last, you may no longer distinguish what binds you from what is you.” – M.T. Anderson from Octavian Nothing. This quote affects me so powerfully that I almost decided this would be the one I tattooed on myself. But then I hesistated: is it too negative? Shouldn’t I have something uplifting or at least neutral as a permanent mark?
“There is a deepness in the sky, and it extends forever.” – Vernor Vinge from A Deepness in the Sky. This quote is solidly in the first category, I think. I would type out the paragraph is comes from because that would help, but you really have to know what a “deepness” is to get the full, breath-taking meaning. Which means you’d have to read the book (and I do recommend quite highly it if you like science fiction). Even though this quote is in the first category, even though it is so much better in context, it may be the one to become my tattoo. After all, the tattoo would be for me, not for anyone else, and I know how deep it is, how much it speaks to me. For me, the quote cannot be taken in isolation, because I know all of the beautiful context behind it.
“For me, the quote cannot be taken in isolation, because I know all of the beautiful context behind it.” Yes. That is what I’ve been wanting to say, what I wrote this post to figure out. My favorite quotes stand in for the material they come from, they distill themes and characters and all the things that make books good into one perfect sentence. The only catch is that you have to read the source material, but that sounds likes a pretty good bargain to me.
What about you? What are your favorite quotes, and do you think of those quotes in isolation or do they represent something bigger?